Topic: EDUCATION

How to Handle Employee Conflict on Your Team

“There is no such thing as a conflict-free team, and you don’t want a conflict-free team,” explained Amy Gallo, author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017). “Disagreements over how the work should be done, what the goal of the work is or how we measure success” help lead to innovative ideas and even bonding between team members, she said.

However, personality conflict is different. When team members can’t seem to get along, that’s a whole different ball game. But as a manager, you should expect that this conflict will happen. 

And once you’ve helped the team figure out how to work well together, be ready to start the process over again when new members come on board. “The reality is that many managers are managing teams that are fluid, given the way teams work now,” Gallo noted. “It’s rare that a manager will have five people on their team and that’s it. New people are staffed for projects, or managers are [put in charge of] a peer for a while because of the nature of special projects.” 

As the team’s leader, it’s up to you to ensure that conflict on your team is dealt with. But that doesn’t mean you’re the one who should be squashing it. 

Avoid Playing Referee

“It’s best for conflict to be handled between the two people having it as much as possible,” Gallo advised. “As a manager, you have to be firm about when you step in. Oftentimes people will expect you to do that over and over if you start playing referee instead of manager.”

To avoid becoming a referee, encourage your team members to work out their differences on their own. But be ready to get involved. One instance where you might have to step in is if conflict has become noticeable to you or other team members, but the involved parties don’t recognize there’s an issue or won’t take the initiative to solve it on their own. “Often, the first step is simply informing them, separately and privately, that their conflict is noticeable and affects the workplace,” explained Andrey Doichev, founder of Inc and Go, a company that streamlines the legal process of setting up a business. 

Next, whether you’ve initiated the conversation or one or both conflicting team members have come to you, consider exactly how involved you want to get. For Gallo, it’s about being a supportive and available coaching resource for employees as they work to squash the beef on their own.

If you use a coaching approach, consider helping the involved parties develop empathy for each other. Ask what they think might be going on with the other person, what they might want out of the situation and to try putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Then you can help them brainstorm potential solutions.

Some conflicts demand a manager’s involvement. If you find out that something inappropriate has happened—anything from harassment to a team member lying about work—”you have to call those behaviors out,” Gallo said. It’s best to do this privately.

Preventing Conflict in the First Place

Overall, though, the best way that managers can handle conflict on their team is to prevent it.

It can be tempting to hire people who are similar. It might seem like a homogenous approach can help prevent conflict. But the lack of diversity can itself be problematic.

Instead, “consider how someone has resolved conflict in the past. One interview question could be, ‘Describe a conflict you’ve had with a co-worker. How did you resolve it?’ ” Gallo said. “It should give insight into how they think about conflict and getting past it.”

Next, tell your team that conflict is natural and expected, but so is a professional resolution of it. This is a great time to set boundaries around how you will and won’t get involved with conflict. Explain that you expect the team to resolve it among themselves but be clear that you’re available to help coach them through it.

Why Servant Leadership is Becoming the Leadership Style of the Future

However, servant leadership is a style of leadership that has been gaining popularity because it sees people’s needs as the end in itself. Servant leadership does not expect any outcome other than simply fulling the needs of people. It is implied that serving them will only do well for them.

Servant leadership today

Servant leadership is not only found in theory anymore. Researchers have shifted their studies to empirically verifiable research findings. Many researchers have also been successful in almost accurately predicting the impact and benefits of the servant leadership approach when applied. It is easier to observe and evaluate how effective servant leadership leads to specific outcomes with such findings.

Organizations around the world are directing their focus towards helping people grow and focus. Furthermore, the motivation of those in leadership positions is aligned to serve others, not just to lead, as almost every stakeholder in an institution has access to all information with the click of a button. The days when leadership and data were preserved for the few elites are bygone.

In the organizational sense, servant leadership empowers the subordinates to become leaders in their units. The competitive future belongs to those leaders and organizations, which will have everyone on board empowered to identify and resolve the organization’s problems. It awards organizational citizenship through servant leadership — this means that for employees to show altruism and go beyond their call of duty, the servant leader must empower each of them to feel like a significant member. This is only achievable when the leadership of an organization is concerned with the holistic well-being and growth of everyone.

Job performance is the aggregate of the contribution of all the individuals to the organizational goal over time. It could be task performance or contextual performance. Task performance contributes to goods and services, and it is relatively easy to measure and monitor. On the other hand, contextual performance involves interpersonal and voluntary activities, which help an organization achieve its core goals in a broader context. Contextual organizational goals can only be achieved with a united team of empowered staff and an environment that focuses on the staff members’ holistic welfare.

Globalization has shrunk the world into one village. Different cultures and norms now influence one another across continents. Multinationals are exporting best practices while at the same time learning from their host communities. The vibrant human rights movements across the world have shifted the focus to human needs. In this competitive 21st century, the institutions that will survive are those willing to embrace change and have servant leadership at the core of their organizational structure. However, labor unions, past management and leadership styles based on command, prestige and authority will cease to survive.

How servant leadership will change the world

Promoters and practitioners of servant leadership suggest that once servant leadership is internalized and lived to its tenets, the fruits of successful servant leadership will manifest in every aspect of society through most of the various attributes enumerated by scholars. Everyone will listen and be listened to; hence there will be little or no misunderstandings. This will help in the pursuit of building a united, cohesive community that confronts common challenges in unison. As such, society will be more empathetic, resulting in a more committed society to the growth of every member.

With So Many People Quitting, Don’t Overlook Those Who Stay

For anyone who doubted, the data is in. The Great Resignation is real and it’s happening. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that during the months of April, May, and June 2021 a total of 11.5 million workers quit their jobs. And it’s not over. According to Gallup research, 48 percent of employees are actively looking to make a change, and according to Personio research, nearly 1:4 will do so in the next six months. Those looking for new opportunities will find ripe opportunities; in June the U.S. hit an all-time high of 10.1 million job openings.

What does this all mean to your organization? You are likely juggling two pressing needs: hiring to backfill people who have left and hiring new people to support business growth. The scarcity is real — too few people for too many jobs. The imbalance of this supply-demand highlights more than ever that productivity is about people.

The best way to stabilize your business is to stem the tsunami of attrition and increase your retention. In the frantic need to hire more people, the group we often forget to attend to are the folks who stay — those showing up day-in and day-out shouldering the work that needs to get done. Think about what these people — the ones who are here, working for and with you — need now. The short answer is they need to be seen for who they are and what they are contributing. It’s your job as the leader to make sure they’re getting the recognition they deserve.

And we get it: As employers, leaders, managers, and HR professionals, you’ve been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and change. You have a lot on your plate. Not having the right people in the right quantities in the right seats to get the work done creates a hamster-wheel effect — you keep running, faster and faster, exhausted with forces outside your control. So let’s control what you can control, and that is you. If you want to stem the rate of turnover in your organization or team, you must look inside yourself and decide what is possible. So, let’s stick our finger in that proverbial hamster wheel and make it stop for a minute. Let’s pause and see what is possible, what you can do to make a difference.

Here are four steps leaders can take now to best navigate the Great Resignation:

1. Be aware of your impact.

As leaders, people are watching you all the time whether you realize it or not. So, pause and consider how you are showing up in both your words and your actions. Let’s say your company is experiencing record YTD turnover of 25% and hiring is falling 60% below target (real scenarios in far too many companies). Your people are worried and stressed. How do you message the realities of these pain points to your people? Are you aware of how your own concerns and frustrations are experienced by others? Are you unintentionally adding to their fear and uncertainty? When you become aware of your impact, you can control it and steer it in the right direction.

2. Focus on potential and possibility.  

On the flip side, let’s say your organization has 75% retention and you have attracted and welcomed a large number of new people to the organization. Consider what outcome you want to create out of this uniquely disruptive time. This is a time to be grounded in pragmatism blended with possibility, gratitude, and recognition of what your people, old and new, are going through. Get curious and ask:

  • What do you envision as the best possible outcome for this situation?
  • What excites you about that?
  • What does that give you/the team/the organization?

When you communicate to your people in this way, the impact is one of potential and possibility instead of fear and uncertainty.

3. Make it okay to leave.

Speaking about communication, let’s look at one other area where you may be creating an unintended impact — how you and others in the organization treat people when they leave.

In far too many companies, when an employee gives notice the reaction is akin to an emotional breakup — you’ve been left and you feel rejected. This triggers some not great behavior like a tendency to make the person leaving “wrong” and doubt their trustworthiness or integrity — even though that was not the case before they gave notice. There is a penchant to dismiss their presence and devalue their contribution. Think deeply about what this type of behavior signals to the departing employee and remember, those that remain and are watching.

An alternative is to approach these transitions with gratitude. It’s helpful to realize the era of lifelong employment is over and with rare exception, your employees are with your organization as a pit stop on their career journey. They’ve contributed and hopefully, they’ve learned some new things. They are not the same person they were when they joined and the same goes for you and for the organization. What would it be like to pause when a resignation occurs and give voice to these things from both sides of the relationship? What would be created if you paused to acknowledge how both sides of the relationship have grown and evolved? Rather than viewing a resignation as a rejection of the relationship, what could be possible if you began to view it as an inflection point in its evolution?

The talent pool is tight, and careers are long. End this phase of your time together with appreciation.

4. Give your employees the respect and attention they deserve

The marketplace for talent has shifted. You need to think of your employees like customers and put thoughtful attention into retaining them. This is the first step to slow attrition and regain your growth curve. And this does not happen when they feel ignored in the fever to hire new people or underappreciated for the effort they make to keep business moving forward. You cannot take your people for granted and expect them to stay — healthy relationships do not work that way. Here are three steps:

Re-recruit them. 

Consider what conversations would be like if you were recruiting them to your company.

  • Spend time to understand their motivations and ambitions. With so much new hiring happening, identify where opportunities might exist inside the organization (even if it is outside of your team) to help them fulfill unrealized dreams and ambitions.
  • Help them see and claim the positive impact they are making in the organization. Acknowledge not just what they are doing, but why it matters. Let them know what you appreciate about how they are showing up during difficult times. People want to know they are making a difference.
  • Don’t stop. These are not one-time conversations. You can’t just wade in, have a talk, and think all is good. This should be the primary focus of each manager and leader in your company.

Reward them.

This may ignite the need for a systemic look at how and what is recognized and rewarded in your organization. Now may be the time to challenge the status quo if what you are seeing from your people and hearing from the talent marketplace is misaligned to your company’s current reality. This is not just about paying people more — research tells us the motivational effect of pay raises is short-lived. Just as important is how you recognize and value the contributions and impact of your people.

  • Think about the DNA of your organization. If the old ways of doing things no longer serve the organization and its people, figure out what does.
  • Be willing to let go of the past … it’s gone.
  • Play the long game here. Be sure your company’s compensation philosophy is clear and understood by all. (That starts with you.) Make sure accountability is in place so that those current employees are not shorted when new people are hired.

Equity starts in how you value contribution. You may not be the only one in your organization to fix the myriad of issues linked to recognition and rewarding your people, but you can lead. You can give voice to the issues and advocate for accountability.

Engage them. 

Businesses are hurting and at the root of that pain for many today is a shortage of people to do the work. Your existing people feel that pain as they extend themselves to pick-up extra shifts to provide coverage, listen to customer complaints when they are helpless to fix the real issue, or witness one more colleague call it “quits” when their tipping point is reached. So, be bold and engage your people in helping you solve problems.

  • Ask for their help. This requires courage because admitting that you do not know all the answers is vulnerable work. It takes strength and confidence to appreciate that outcomes are better when more ideas are included, when fuller representation is present and diverse perspectives are heard.
  • Give them agency to help mitigate the day-to-day concerns they are faced with. Create space for them to step up, participate and inform the way forward. This sends the crucial message that they are trusted and valued.
  • Focus on the desired outcome. Actively seek the insights of diverse voices and points of view into what will help achieve it, especially insights and ideas different than your own. Remain open to being surprised and delighted.

The 3 Phases of Making a Major Life Change

Many of us believe that unexpected events or shocks create fertile conditions for major life and career changes by sparking us to reflect about our desires and priorities. That holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. A bit over a year ago, when I asked people in an online poll to tell me how the pandemic had affected their plans for career change, 49% chose this response: “It has given me downtime to rest and/or think.”

That’s a good start. But if there is one thing I have learned from decades of studying successful career change, it’s that thinking on its own is far from sufficient. We rarely think our way into a new way of acting. Rather, we act our way into new ways of thinking — and being.

Yes, events that disrupt our habitual routines have the potential to catalyze real change. They give us a chance to experiment with new activities and to create and renew connections. Even in the seemingly “unproductive” time we spend away from our everyday work lives, we conduct important inner business — asking the big existential questions, remembering what makes us happy, shoring up the strength to make difficult choices, consolidating our sense of self, and more.

Enough has happened during this past year to make many of us keenly aware of what we no longer want. But the problem is this: More appealing, feasible alternatives have yet to materialize. So we’re stuck in limbo between old and new. And now, with most Covid restrictions at last falling away and a return to the office imminent, we confront a real danger: getting sucked back into our former jobs and ways of working.

How can those of us who want to make a career transition avoid that? How can we make progress toward our goals by building on what we’ve learned this past year?

Research on the transformative potential of a catalyzing event like the coronavirus pandemic suggests that we are more likely to make lasting change when we actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that gets us to focus on separationliminality, and reintegration. Let’s consider each of those parts of the cycle in detail.

The Benefits of Separation

“I spent lockdown in this idyllic, secluded environment,” I was told by John, a businessman whose last executive role came to an end around the onset of the pandemic, enabling him to move out into the country. “I got to see the spring come and go,” he said. “I got to see a lot of nature. It was just an amazingly peaceful backdrop. I got married last year, so my wife and I had an enormous amount of time together. My son, from whom I’d been estranged, came to stay with us. So I got to know him again, which was a great experience. This was a very blessed period.”

John’s experience wasn’t unique. Research on how moving can facilitate behavior change suggests that people who found a new and different place to live during the pandemic may now have better chances of making life changes that stick. Why? Because of what’s known as “habit discontinuity.” We are all more malleable when separated from the people and places that trigger old habits and old selves.

Change always starts with separation. Even in some of the ultimate forms of identity change — brainwashing, de-indoctrinating terrorists, or rehabilitating substance abusers — the standard operating practice is to separate subjects from everybody who knew them previously, and to deprive them of a grounding in their old identities. This separation dynamic explains why young adults change when they go away to college.

My recent research has shown how much our work networks are prone to the “narcissistic and lazy” bias. The idea is this: We are drawn spontaneously to, and maintain contact with, people who are similar to us (we’re narcissistic), and we get to know and like people whose proximity makes it easy for use to get to know and like them (we’re lazy).

The pandemic disrupted at least physical proximity for most of us. But that might not be enough — particularly as we rush back into our offices, travel schedules and social lives — to mitigate the powerful similarities that the narcissistic and lazy bias create for us at work. That’s why maintaining some degree of separation from the network of relationships that defined our former professional lives can be vital to our reinvention.

Tammy English, of Washington University, and Laura Carstensen, of Stanford University, found that the size of people’s networks shrank after the age of 60, not because these people had fewer opportunities to connect but because, increasingly, they perceived time as being limited, which made them more selective. Quite possibly many of our experiences of the pandemic, like John’s, will foster our reinvention by encouraging greater selectivity in how and with whom we spend our limited time.

Liminal Learnings

When the pandemic hit, Sophie, a former lawyer, was transitioning out of a two-decade career and found herself wanting to explore a range of new work possibilities, among them documentary filmmaking, journalism, non-executive board roles, and sustainability consulting. Lockdown created a liminal time and space, a “betwixt and between” zone, in which the normal rules that governed Sophie’s professional life were temporarily lifted, and she felt able to experiment with all sorts of work and leisure pursuits without committing to any of them. She made the most of that period — taking several courses, working on start-up ideas, doing freelance consulting, joining a nonprofit board, and producing two of her first short films.

Taking advantage of liminal interludes allows us to experiment — to do new and different things with new and different people. In turn, that affords us rare opportunities to learn about ourselves and to cultivate new knowledge, skills, resources and relationships. But these interludes don’t last forever. At some point, we have to cull learning from our experiments and use it to take some informed next steps in our plans for career change. What is worth pursuing further? What new interest has cropped up that’s worth a look? What will you drop having learned that it’s not so appealing after all? What do you keep, but only as a hobby?

When Sophie took stock, she was surprised to realize that she hadn’t grown in her board role as much as she had expected, whereas she had very quickly started to build meaningful connections linked to the film industry. These were vital recognitions for her to make before she committed herself to next steps in her transition plan.

Reintegration: A Time for New Beginnings

Most of the executives and professionals with whom I have exchanged pandemic experiences tell me that they do not want to return to hectic travel schedules or long hours that sacrifice time with their families — but are nonetheless worried that they will.

They are right to be worried, because external shocks rarely produce lasting change. The more typical pattern after we receive some kind of wake-up call is simply to revert back to form once things return to “normal.” That’s what the Wharton professor Alexandra Michel found in 2016, when she investigated the physical consequences of overwork for four cohorts of investment bankers over a 12-year period.For these people, avoiding unsustainable work habits required more than changing jobs or even occupations. Many of them had physical breakdowns even after moving into organizations that were supposedly less work-intensive. Why? Because they had actually moved into similarly demanding positions, but without taking sufficient time in between roles to convalesce and gain psychological distance from their hard-driving selves.

Our ability to take advantage of habit discontinuity depends on what we do in the narrow window of opportunity that opens up after routine-busting changes. One study has found, for example, that the window of opportunity for engaging in more environmentally sustainable behaviors lasts up to three months after people move house. Similarly, research on the “fresh start” effect shows that while people experience heightened goal-oriented motivation upon after returning to work from a holiday, this motivation peaks on the first day back and declines rapidly thereafter.

The hybrid working environments with which many organizations are currently experimenting represent a possible new window of opportunity for many people hoping to make a career change, one in which the absence of old cues and the need to make conscious choices provides an opportunity to implement new goals and intentions. If you’re one of these people, it’s now up to you to decide whether you will use this period to effect real career change — or whether, instead, you’ll drift back into your old job and patterns as if nothing ever happened.

To Sell Your Innovative Ideas, You Must Overcome These 4 “Frictions”

Kellogg professors Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal, see this as the perfect analogy for how innovations do, or do not, hit their targets. There’s the fuel of the new product or idea—the compelling features meant to draw people in—but there are also frictions to be considered—the sticking points that make people less likely to adopt something new.

Yet, they say, most innovators think only about fuel and ignore friction.

“We instinctively believe that the way to get people to say yes to our ideas is to add value, to use fuel,” explains Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations. “We often neglect the other side of the equation: the friction that opposes change. Ignoring frictions when pursuing ideas would be like building an airplane and caring only about engines and not aerodynamics.”

Nordgren and Schonthal are authors of the forthcoming book The Human Element, which lays out a framework for how to identify and then tackle the frictions that may be hindering adoption of your innovations. They discussed their framework in a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar.

There are four basic dimensions to a new idea—each of which has a corresponding friction. Innovators should consider all four of these frictions when launching something new. To explain them, the professors offered a case study of a home-building company.

The company built 1,000 homes for empty nesters who wanted to downsize. Lots of people came to tour the homes, with large percentages of visitors putting down five percent earnest money.

Great news, right? It sure seemed like a good idea with a compelling value proposition.

“And then something really weird happened,” explains Schonthal, a clinical professor of innovation and entrepreneurship. A large portion of the people who put money down “walked away from the deal, in some cases leaving their earnest money on the table.”

Why? Here’s where those four types of frictions come in.

  • Inertia: Does the idea represent a major change?
    For these older customers, this new home definitely represented a major change. For example, they wouldn’t know their new neighbors or neighborhood well.
  • Effort: What is the cost of implementation?
    The cost is likely pretty high. Customers need to spiff up their old home to get it ready to sell, hire movers, and maybe store some of their furniture that won’t fit in the new place.
  • Reactance: Does the audience feel pressured to change?
    Maybe the potential buyers’ adult children are encouraging them to move, or they’ve had some medical problems that are making them consider leaving their long-time home earlier than expected.
  • Emotion: What negative feelings might the idea produce?
    There are, of course, lots of emotions tied up in a home and in the realities of aging. Indeed, once the home builder started talking to potential customers, they realized just how emotional some aspects of the move really were.

“They just couldn’t figure out what to do with all their old stuff; in particular, what were they going to do with the dining room table?” Schonthal explains. “The dining-room table is a talisman. It is an artifact that embodies all of these good family memories.”

After identifying all of these frictions, the home builder made some changes. They offered help staging customers’ homes for sale, they included moving and storage services, and, to address the all-important issue of the dining-room table, they moved a wall to create a bigger room.

This increased the cost of the condos, but customers were happy to pay extra. The enlarged dining room alone increased sales by a significant amount.

The lesson: “Removing friction is often more powerful than increasing fuel,” Schonthal says.

The professors’ book offers techniques for digging into these four frictions to get beneath the surface and truly understand why your audience might be resistant.

“You’re like a detective,” Nordgren says. “You’re analyzing the circumstances to understand the specific frictions operating against you. And once you identify those frictions, in many cases the solutions become self-evident.”

This approach works across cultures, they say. And it works for innovators of all types—whether you’re advocating for a new product, a departmental restructuring, or a social movement.

“The ideas here apply to change of really any form,” Schonthal says, “anyone who’s trying to bring something new into the world.”

Let’s Redefine “Productivity” for the Hybrid Era

The boundary between work and home has never been a clear line. Even when I’m in the office, for example, I’m on call if any of my four kids needs me. I remember how hard it was to get things done in my early days at Microsoft when they were babies — I had a lot of free time while they napped or played, but I couldn’t use that time productively because I might have to drop everything to attend to them at any moment.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and as a mother and researcher, trying to manage the boundary between work and home brought a lot of invention into my life. For example, while most productivity research tends to focus on eliminating distractions, I began to imagine what we could do if we used the micro-moments we have each day productively. This led me to develop approaches to algorithmically break tasks down into microtasks that fit more easily into the fragmented way we actually work. The resulting concept, which we call microproductivity, expanded the way we think about productivity at Microsoft.

Fast forward to March 4, 2020, when the boundary between work and home truly came down and Microsoft sent its Seattle-area employees home to work. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were at the start of one of the greatest disruptions to work in generations, and it created an opportunity for us to expand our understanding of productivity yet again. Hundreds of researchers from Microsoft, LinkedIn, and GitHub came together to form the largest research initiative in Microsoft’s history, now called the “New Future of Work.” Together, while figuring out how to work from home and struggling with childcare ourselves, we’ve conducted more than 50 research projects on remote work.

Despite a year and a half of research, it’s almost impossible to predict what work will look like months from now, let alone years. We see, for example, that while people miss many things about working from the office, the idea of losing the flexibility of remote work is scary; CEO Satya Nadella calls this the “hybrid paradox.” But the research points to a clear need for managers to create a new definition of productivity that considers the hybrid paradox — one that not only factors in how much people get done, but how they actually work when the boundary between work and home no longer exists.

A New Definition of Productivity

Information worker productivity is hard to define and measure, but researchers use two key types of data to approximate it: 1) self-reported worker data, or asking people if they feel productive, and 2) worker activity data, or counting the number of emails sent or lines of code written. When companies first went remote, many were surprised to see that these standard metrics of productivity remained high. For instance, one year into the pandemic, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey showed that self-assessed productivity of more than 30,000 global workers external to Microsoft remained the same or higher. Microsoft’s annual employee survey showed similar results.

Looking at activity data, a study in one division of Microsoft showed that the number of features checked in by developers per hour increased by 1.5% while focus time increased by 6%. Repositories in GitHub also saw flat or increasing activity.

But when we look at the research more closely, it’s clear these metrics don’t tell the whole story. As work pushed into our homes, helpful boundaries began to blur. Almost half (49%) of Microsoft employees in one study reported working longer hours, and only 9% reported working fewer. In a global study of workers external to Microsoft one year into the pandemic, 54% said they felt overworked and 39% reported feeling exhausted.

We also lost a lot of the benefits of working together in the office. Participants in our studies reported that creative work like group brainstorming was more difficult while remote. There’s also mounting evidence of lost connection to coworkers. A recent paper we published in Nature Human Behavior found that our networks at work are becoming more siloed, presenting risks to innovation, knowledge transfer, and ultimately, productivity.

Study after study has shown that it’s not enough to be guided by simple measures of productivity as we figure out how to move to hybrid work. While it may be tempting to equate high levels of employee activity with success, doing so misses the factors that drive long-term, sustainable innovation. We must expand the way we think about productivity to focus on well-being, social connections, and collaboration and the innovation they bring to drive business success.

Working with This New Definition

Based on what we’re seeing in the research, here are some ways managers can embrace a more expansive view of productivity in a hybrid world — one that promotes well-being, collaboration, and innovation for you and your team.

Well-being

Despite the burnout so many of us feel, the hybrid environment offers an opportunity to create a more sustainable approach to work. Remote and in-person work both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and rather than expecting the same outcomes from each, we can build on what makes them unique.

When in the office, prioritize relationships and collaborative work like brainstorming around a whiteboard. When working from home, encourage people to design their days to include other priorities such as family, fitness, or hobbies. They should take a nap if they need one and step outside between meetings. Brain studies show that even five-minute breaks between remote meetings help people think more clearly and reduce stress.

Likewise, watch out for the risks each type of work carries with it. People can avoid the long commutes they used to have by staggering their schedules to avoid traffic. Encourage them to set boundaries at home so they don’t work every hour of the day just because they can.

The trick is finding what works for each individual. A key theme in our research is that there are enormous individual differences in whether and how remote work can be effective. People have different experiences depending on their tenure at a company, where they live, and their gender, race, or role. Even individuals with similar contexts have idiosyncratically different experiences. For instance, some Microsoft employees cite work-life balance and focus time as reasons to go into the office, while others cite those exact things as reasons to work from home.

Over the next few months, ask people to take the time to reflect on when and where they feel the most or least productive. Have them ask themselves: Do I seem to work better in the morning or evening? When I work from a certain location, are there fewer interruptions? Do I feel more focused?

Collaboration

At Microsoft, the biggest reasons employees want to go back to the office are collaboration and social connections. But if someone goes into the office on a day the rest of their team works from home, they won’t get those in-person interactions. A key aspect of making hybrid work productive is finding a compromise between individual workstyles and team needs.

One way to do this is by making team agreements. At Microsoft, we’re asking each team to create a set of team norms that define how they’d like to work together in our hybrid workplace. Individuals can share how they work best. Teams can establish meeting-free days or plan regular in-person team meetings. To avoid one person’s flexible working hours becoming another person’s after-hours messaging, managers can set norms around the times of day responses are expected.

It’s also important to ensure hybrid meetings are as inclusive and intentional as possible. Use a hand-raise feature to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and, if you’re using meeting chat, assign a moderator who’s separate from the person running the meeting to follow the chat and bring key subjects into the conversation. These things are particularly important if the remote people are more junior than those in the room. Other things we’re experimenting with include asking in-person attendees to join meetings as soon as they arrive to the meeting room so remote participants are included in the pre-meeting chat. In-person attendees may also want to join on their individual laptops so remote participants have a better view of them.

Under the old definition of productivity, coordinating team collaboration around individual workstyles and thinking hard about whether your team should change its meeting practices might have seemed unnecessary, high maintenance, or even awkward. With the new definition of productivity in mind, these activities are essential.

Innovation

In the simplest sense, innovation often requires people getting together to exchange and prototype ideas and brainstorm solutions, balanced with time for individual focus and reflection. If done right, hybrid work can create exactly those conditions. If done wrong, those important social connections can erode and impact innovation. Thinking of productivity more expansively — by optimizing for the conditions that spur innovation — can help hedge against those risks.

How Dads Can Build a Network of Parenting Allies at Work

We have all heard the truism that it takes a village to raise a child, and of course we all know that if you want to get ahead at work and in your career, you need to be an effective teammate and successful networker. But most fathers have not yet put two and two together and realized the importance of building a network of parenting allies at work.

Our research on modern working dads shows that while fathers still want (and need) successful careers, they also want to be present and involved as parents and partners. They want to share the workload and the joys. They want to soothe a crying baby at night and be home in time for baths and story time. They want fulfilling weekends with their family and meaningful time with their children throughout the week.

Unfortunately, workplace policy and tradition are still holding them back. The notion of fatherhood being segregated from work life, as well as a culture of presenteeism and face time, have been the norm since the advent of the office. Rather than confronting this culture, many dads succumb to it, particularly if their finances are fragile.

Nurturing a network of parenting allies can help fathers on two levels: support and advocacy. On the support level, your parenting allies are the colleagues who will have your back when you have to rush home to look after a sick child or offer a sympathetic ear when you’re overwhelmed. This type of support is interpersonal, unofficial, and can be fostered in any corporate culture. If a colleague can support you emotionally or practically in your goal of succeeding in your career and as a parent—and you do the same for them—then they’re a worthy ally.

The advocacy level of your parenting ally network has a higher goal: changing company culture for the better. If you’re hoping to mold your organization into a friendlier place for working parents, going it alone is a recipe for failure. Parenting allies can help you widen the discussion and take it in different directions. They have conversations with a wider range of people. They normalize the ideas and leadership starts to take notice. Slowly, they change minds.

Think about advocating for a more progressive paternity leave policy. One dad can’t fight for change by himself—he needs allies to help spread the word. A preponderance of conversations are needed about how better leave means happier, more productive dads. Fathers, and those who intend to become fathers, stay with the company longer, and new talent is easier to recruit. What a business loses in long hours, it gains in loyalty. Mothers benefit when fathers take longer paternity leave. These messages need to spread across the shop floor, in HR, marketing, and finance, and in the CEO’s office.

Building your parenting ally network

More people than you might think can be your parenting allies. Many will be mothers—moms have been fighting for parental work rights for decades, and they’ll appreciate the vigor a new generation of involved dads can bring. Your allies are likely to include parents who are older than you, those who remember the challenges they faced combining their family and career. An ally can have any job title, though if they have a direct influence on parental policy at work they can be more effective. They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be sounding boards for your own thoughts or ideas, or they can be in a position to spread those ideas widely. Here are a few steps to start the conversation.

Share your life as a dad, in all its messy, wonderful glory. We often hear of dads who are successful and popular at work and who keep the fatherhood side of their identities entirely hidden from colleagues and clients. This reticence has the tendency to be contagious. To overcome it, simply start talking. Talk about your weekend and include the family outing. Mention the fact that you’re leaving on time today to get home for story time. Joke about that diaper change that went horribly wrong.

Normalize your parenting life and your colleagues will see you don’t treat it as a taboo subject either. Maybe a parent with younger children will want to ask you for advice or a parent of older kids will have some for you. Either way, you’ve created a space for discussion. If you’re a manager, you’ve also provided an example for other dads to talk about their lives as parents. Don’t forget to mention the pressure of your dual responsibilities. Free others to admit that being a good worker and a good dad is sometimes a tough balancing act.

Fly your dad flag virtually. If you work remotely, you won’t bump into other parents in the kitchen, but the principle remains the same, even if you’re chatting over Zoom or Teams. Hang your children’s artwork in your background. Make your profile photo a family photo. Take an occasional meeting with a toddler on your lap. Start a Slack group for parents and parenting issues, invite a few people, and watch word of mouth take over. Create a virtual discussion around parenting.

Join existing conversations. There may already be formal parents’ groups in your organization. These are a brilliant way for moms and dads to start talking about the issues at work that affect them as parents. We’ve led a number of parent networking sessions where we’ve been asked to talk about the challenges we’ve faced as working dads. Workplace parenting groups are more likely to be mom-focused, often because moms are more likely to set them up. You and your allies can help change that dynamic.

Create a dads’ network. If there are no ready-made parent networks at your workplace, start your own. Make it a dads’ network, at least to start with, to coax reluctant fathers out into the open. Some men might be put off by the idea of a general parenting club and more comfortable discussing issues with other dads. You can change the policy, if that feels right, later. We’ve seen more and more work-based dad clubs starting to emerge, not least through our own Dad Connect program, which aims to help dads forge connections within and across organizations.

Ask other dads at your workplace if they’d like to meet informally to talk about issues around parenthood and work that are important to them. It shouldn’t require too much time or energy, so once a month at lunchtime might be enough to begin. Ask HR if you can advertise the group in the staff newsletter or put a poster on the notice board. Keep an email list or Slack group of interested individuals and contact them before each meeting.

As the group becomes more established, widen its responsibilities. Invite a member of the senior management team to talk about what the business is doing to promote family-friendly working practices. Invite moms to meetings or create ties with mom groups in the business. Compile a document of innovations the group would like to see implemented, alongside examples of best practices. Keep the group engaged between meetings through regular messaging and encourage members to discuss practical, everyday questions, like recommendations for family-friendly restaurants or the best things to do with a four-year-old this weekend.

Leaders, Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Your Fears and Anxieties

“I realize my boundaries are blurred, but I don’t know how to handle everything on my plate. There is a lot to do and a lot to take care of … The team looks for so much in terms of guidance, direction, energy, ideas, structure … I feel like I am carrying the weight of it all.” 

We all struggle with stress, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. But it can be tough to figure out what to do with these feelings, especially if we’re the ones who are supposed to be leading and supporting others. What’s the best way for a leader to handle their own emotional struggles at work?

To explore this question, we invited 30 leaders from the US and UK to keep journals for four weeks in May and June of 2020. The leaders were from a variety of global corporations, national and international charities, and startups, and we asked them to write weekly entries in response to three different prompts: 1. What is emerging for you? 2. What are you finding you need? and 3. What are you letting go of? Without exception, every leader in our study described major emotional turmoil. One leader wrote, “Just the stress of lockdown has made me wonder if this is all worth it. I’m struggling to keep my emotions in check, and the people closest to me are getting the brunt of it.” Another shared that on some days, they felt like they had lost their will to live and sense of purpose. Yet another described feeling “a sense of dread. I feel I have little grasp on how to navigate the future, much less to lead others.”

Despite their common emotional experiences, however, the leaders diverged significantly in how they responded to these challenges. Specifically, our analysis identified three distinct types of leaders, each of whom took a different approach to managing their negative emotions:

  1. Heroes: Leaders who focused on the positive, doing their best to convince their teams that they would get through the crisis no matter what.
  2. Technocrats: Leaders who ignored emotions altogether and focused on tactical solutions.
  3. Sharers: Leaders who openly acknowledged their fears, stresses, and other negative emotions.

While there are pros and cons to every leadership style, we found that Sharers were particularly successful in building cohesive, high-performing teams that were resilient in the face of the myriad challenges posed by the pandemic. Why might this be? Both our own work and a vast body of existing research suggests several reasons why Sharers are likely to outperform Heroes and Technocrats.

Technocrats and Heroes Aren’t as Heroic as They Seem

First, while positivity can improve performance, research suggests that trying to ignore a negative emotion actually makes you feel worse. As one leader put it, “I’m sick of reading, self-motivating, learning, staying upbeat, etc. when all I can feel is tiredness from overwork and fear.” Another expressed a similar sentiment: “My positivity, resilience, and outwardly strong mindset … are pillars for those around me — I find that people are gravitating around this, but I have to protect my space and keep looking after myself when I’m tired etc., because I can give others the impression it’s all under control and ‘in good hands’ and that isn’t always true.”

In addition, a Hero leadership style can make team members feel more distant from their leader, since if the leader appears not to be struggling at all, it can put pressure on others to suppress their own challenges. A façade of positivity can decrease the well-being of both team members and leaders, undermine leaders’ relationships with employees, and ultimately reduce self-confidence and performance at work.

Similarly, while there’s certainly a time and a place for focusing on results, many of the Technocrats in our study found that ignoring emotions simply didn’t work. For one, it undermined leaders’ own mental health. As one leader noted, “At the start of the pandemic, I managed the stress and the uncertainty by looking after my own mental space a lot. Now, I am still locked in but I am a lot less kind to myself. My old ‘business as usual’ pushing has come back … I am feeling more and more out of sync and not giving myself any more of the ‘self-nurturing’ space I had at the beginning of the pandemic.”

This approach can also take a toll on leaders’ relationships with their teams. One Technocrat wrote that they were “letting go of some of the niceties and ‘fluff.’ I just don’t have enough time right now and it’s the softer sides that are being sacrificed.” And of course, letting negative emotions go unaddressed inevitably ends up impacting productivity. Another participant noted that despite (or perhaps because of) his results-focused leadership style, “there are people (and I include some senior people) who seem to be doing the very minimum that is required of them … People are hitting walls, and there are lots of frustrations.”

While emotions may seem frivolous to some, they in fact drive everything leaders care about, from job performance to turnover to customer satisfaction. By ignoring emotions, Technocrats fail both to harness the positive emotions that spur performance and to address the negative emotions that undermine it.

The Best Leaders Are Sharers

In contrast, sharing negative emotions can lessen their impact on the leader, build empathy between leaders and employees, encourage others to open up about their own negative emotions, and help others recontextualize and overcome those struggles — ultimately boosting morale and performance throughout the organization. For example, one leader found that when they opened up about emotions with their team, it allowed them “to get beyond small talk and connect more deeply… it opened up a different and richer conversation, a very ‘data rich’ discussion in a way that can be lacking from video calls.” These “more human conversations” helped teams to weather the days that still felt “very much like a roller coaster — exciting, energetic, and optimistic in one moment and deflated, down, and lethargic the next.”

Another leader wrote about how acknowledging their own emotional turbulence helped them to understand the mental state of their employees and to interact with them more effectively and empathetically. Throughout our study, we found that being open about their own inner turmoil helped Sharers’ teams to feel more comfortable doing the same, which in turn both helped everyone to cope more effectively with their negative emotions and created greater psychological closeness between teammates despite their physical separation.

Becoming a Sharer Is Difficult — But Not Impossible

Of course, becoming a Sharer is often easier said than done. In the journal entries, we found that many leaders had strong biases towards the Hero and Technocrat styles, driven by a widespread assumption that true leaders must always be aspirational and results-oriented, and that admitting negative emotions is a sign of weakness. One Hero-type leader described feeling like they “had to lead others with positivity while fighting fires on a daily basis,” and others even apologized for the negativity of their entries — as if they were ashamed not to focus on the positive, even in a private journaling exercise. Similarly, Technocrat leaders often prioritized “immediate challenges around how to work going forward,” writing that they needed “organization and focus so I don’t get distracted.”

This Is Why You Need to Become the Face of Your Business

Do you know who started McDonalds? Nike? What about Chevrolet? While some may know a name, they wouldn’t be able to match a face to that name. Today, many of the largest brands in the world can be matched with a face.

Elon Musk is synonymous with Tesla. It’s becoming increasingly popular for large brands to have a face associated with them, whether it’s a high-ranking C-level executive or the founder. There are several reasons why this is advantageous and something you should consider.

Consumers connect more strongly with a personality than with a faceless brand 

A lot has changed over the years, especially how brands interact with consumers. Thirty years ago, there were very limited ways to advertise  TV, radio and print were the main delivery vehicles for advertisements.

Messaging was very direct. “This is our product, and this is what it does.” Brands had to be consistent with their messaging, driving brand familiarity through the use of a logo and tagline, hoping it translated to sales the next time the consumer was shopping in a retail environment.

Today, a logo isn’t even an afterthought. Many successful brands use a simple text-based logo with nothing more than font matching their vibe. The branding and advertising can be very direct and go for the conversion immediately because of online shopping.

With the goal of making that connection quickly, many brands began using a familiar face to establish a strong brand-consumer relationship. Consumers connect with and trust a brand with a face more than they do a faceless brand. Then, when that face has a distinctive and unforgettable personality, the results can be amplified tenfold.

You can tell your story better than anyone else

Would Tesla have a similar success story if it used a random celebrity spokesperson rather than Elon Musk? No, because nobody can tell the brand’s story better than Elon. While he didn’t originally start the company, he invested, took control and quickly made sure to brand the company with his image and likeness.

He eats, breathes and sleeps Tesla. He is the leading authority on all things Tesla-related because he is in the trenches daily. Who else could relay breaking news, exciting developments and explain the direction of the company the same way? Nobody, and the same applies to you and your business.

Every business has a story, and the brands that figure out how to tell it authentically benefit greatly. Consumers love to hear the “why” behind brands. There are so many companies out there with amazing stories that never get heard because they never get told.

Put your story out there and be the delivery mechanism for sharing your story. It’s much more effective when it’s told by you.

Believing in your own product or service is the strongest statement you can make

Become the modern-day entrepreneur, an entrepreneur influencer. It is the strongest statement an entrepreneur can make  to be the face of the business you founded means putting yourself out there,  not just calling the shots behind a desk. It means that you’re all-in on your brand and will be there for the ups and downs alike, committed to bringing the best product or service to market. No amount of fancy advertisements or paid celebrity endorsements can match that level of trust or commitment.

It’s easy to hide behind a name and company, or even staff members and executives, but those that step out in front of everyone ready to face the music head-on are making a bold statement. Consumers know that brands will face challenges and not everything will be smooth sailing, which is another reason they respect the move and will patronize brands with a face over one with no personal connection. 

Discovering Purpose in the Pandemic

To be sure, the return-to-office scramble is untenable for many workers because of health or other family-related reasons. But for others, the return is untenable because a newfound commitment to living on purpose won’t let them go back to be handcuffed to the habits of yesteryear.Add Insight
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The pain of this pandemic, with its death toll of nearly 4 million lives lost worldwide, has triggered many of us to go deeper to explore existential questions—from “why am I here?” to “what is true success, and what does that look like for me?” And as much as we all want to put COVID-19 behind us, the answers we seek may actually be found in our pandemic-era reflections. Where there is profound pain and loss, we can also find purpose. 

This year’s International Day of Purpose (observed annually on June 20) offers us a moment to take stock of three indispensable lessons that the pandemic has taught us for the journey ahead.

Let Your Pain Point You to Purpose 

To say that the pandemic has been painful is an understatement. And it’s only natural to want to organize our lives in such a way as to reduce, eliminate, and quickly move beyond pain in our lives. However, as I’ve seen in my work as a professor, executive coach, and pastor, the most painful experiences can often signal where our purpose lies. The pain we experience can not only produce empathy but also give us clarity regarding where we can make our best and highest contributions to alleviate human suffering.

For example, during the early months of the pandemic, the owner of a small, “nonessential” business had to close her doors. Without any income and with bills mounting, she had to turn to a local food pantry for assistance. Out of that painful experience, however, came an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a renewed desire to help others once she landed on her feet. When her business reopened, she shared her story with her customers and asked them to contribute nonperishable food items. Their response was so overwhelming that her small business actually became the biggest collection point for her local food pantry! A small act of kindness birthed out of deep personal pain allowed this small-town entrepreneur to put her purpose into action; it just might do the same for us.

Embrace the Disruption

For many of us, the pandemic upended almost every aspect of our lives. Many jobs (and cancelled family reunions) were catapulted into the unfamiliar environment of Zoom, Teams, or Webex, and many gym memberships were cancelled in favor of at-home fitness regimens. Yet out of that disruption came new routines and changed perspectives. As we look forward to a post-pandemic reality, we cannot be in such a hurry to get back to “normal” that we forget what we learned. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to examine our new ways of thinking, being, and doing. It will never be 2019 again and, in many ways, that’s probably for the best.

There may be some things that we do not or should not want to resume. For example, a workplace that is returning to mandatory, 100 percent in-person work, with zero flexibility or hybrid arrangements, might be best left behind. Flexibility during the day—to care for family or even ourselves—has become too important for many to abandon. The pandemic highlighted the folly of pursuing the myth of work–life balance and shined a bright spotlight on the value of whole-life integration—an approach that invites us to do our best each day to fully live into all of the complex dimensions of our lives with greater dexterity. During this pandemic, we have seen many workers play the roles of employee, caregiver, spouse/partner, and homeowner—all within the same hour! 

To live the purposeful lives we desire in whatever our “new normal” will be, we can’t afford to relinquish some of those pandemic-induced innovations that actually helped us flourish in all of our roles in these challenging times. 

Let Your Values Take the Lead

For many of us, the pandemic helped us to clarify what is and what is not important in our lives. Many of the things we spent so much time pursuing and concerning ourselves with before the pandemic—the garages full of cars, the walk-in closets full of clothes, or the number of garages and closets one has—just don’t register with the preoccupying importance that they once did in the face of a life-or-death global pandemic. Just the other day, I was talking with an executive who, as he was preparing for his first in-person board meeting in over a year, laughingly confessed, “I’m not sure whether my suits even fit or if I remember how to tie a tie.” The truth is, so much of what used to matter just plain doesn’t matter anymore.

Encourage Your Employees to Give You Critical Feedback

It’s been 10 years since I co-authored the HBR article “Making Yourself Indispensable,” with John H. Zenger and Joseph Folkman. In the article we provided a model to get useful and actionable feedback on one’s leadership effectiveness, and how to uniquely develop your strengths in those areas.

As I re-read the article recently, I was struck by a statement we made about using an informal 360 to get feedback from colleagues and direct reports: Do your best to exhibit receptiveness and to create a feeling of safety (especially for direct reports). Make it clear that you’re seeking self-improvement. Tell your colleagues explicitly that you are open to negative feedback and that you will absorb it professionally and appropriately — and without retribution. Of course, you need to follow through on this promise, or the entire process will fail.

Unlike formal 360s which usually involve anonymous surveys, informal 360s are based on direct conversations with team members. The informal 360 is incredibly valuable for leaders as a means to seek feedback as well as develop stronger alliances with colleagues. However, as I’ve worked with leaders and teams using informal 360s over the past 10 years, I’ve realized we may have understated the challenges associated with getting actionable feedback from colleagues in this face-to-face assessment format. There are two important points I would like to add to “Making Yourself Indispensable” to help leaders get more out of an informal 360:

1. The good stuff is easy. The “fatal flaws” are much, much harder to uncover.

I didn’t think we went far enough in stating: “Tell your colleagues that you are open to negative feedback,” implying that would be sufficient to get a direct report to candidly share their thoughts about your weaknesses. Most people are incredibly loath to say anything negative, and it will take some serious effort on your part to enable the people you work with to tell you the truth about yourself — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I saw this in action recently when I was hired as part of an executive coaching engagement to work with an EVP in a Fortune 500 company. I was talking with the CEO, who had hired me, about the performance of this leader. The CEO shared some very direct examples and feedback about this person that had not been aired quite so candidly in our previous chats. I asked the CEO if he had ever talked with the EVP about this issue, using the precise language he just shared with me. He said no. I asked if I could share his thoughts with the EVP, and he backpedaled, asking if he could think about it first. I share this example to highlight that even for the top executive in the company, it can be tough to share candid feedback if the stage is not properly set.

One benefit of an informal 360 is that whatever is shared is just between you and the person giving feedback is off the official record, not evaluated by HR or executives. This can open a valuable safe space for evaluators to get real with you about your impact as a leader.

To make this work, you must first promise total amnesty to participants, and I don’t use that term lightly. Simply “creating safety” and “exhibiting receptiveness” (as we wrote in our previous article) are not sufficient for most people to be willing to share the kind of feedback you need to hear. It can be extremely challenging to get people to share their true thoughts about your leadership weaknesses when hearing their honest opinions about any flaws might upset you. This is doubly hard if you have a history of getting angry or shooting the messenger.

You will need to go out of your way to invite opinions that others think you may not want to hear. Tell participants: “I want to hear your real perspectives about the impact I have on you as a leader, even where it’s negative. I promise you amnesty — and that I will not respond defensively or with retribution, even if I don’t like what I hear. I value your perspective.” And then of course, you need to make good on your promise.

You’ll find that it’s easy to get a colleague to share the good stuff you’re doing. People naturally want you to feel good and associate themselves with giving you a lift. But when an executive asks, “Tell me about my fatal flaws,” the response I’ve heard recounted dozens of times is, “Well, it’s not a fatal flaw, but . . . [insert critical leadership problem here].” This is a valuable clue, and you should seriously consider addressing the issue. Being attuned and open to this candid feedback is extremely valuable in your efforts to become an exceptional leader.

2. The informal 360 process builds mutual trust in a way a formal survey cannot.

While formal surveys can provide a vehicle for sharing comments anonymously, a common criticism is that comments lack depth or aren’t fully clear. The informal 360 stimulates a shift in the way people interact and discuss these comments. And since leadership is, at its core, a relational and interactive skill, the informal 360 facilitates a change in the way leaders discuss performance with their teams.

One beneficial effect of engaging in these open dialogues about areas where you can improve is that, over time, it builds the kind of trust that allows you to be frank with others. This is not to say that when you receive feedback, you immediately turn around and deliver your own feedback to the other person. That old phrase about feedback being a gift doesn’t suggest “regifting” right away. But graciously receiving feedback in the informal 360 can open a more productive dialogue about performance and the impact we have on others.

I’ve observed many instances when a leader was able to create an atmosphere of openness and trust, which changed the way colleagues interacted and discussed performance issues. The informal 360 process establishes accepting the perspectives of others as the norm, even when people may not completely agree. One leader told me that as a result of this process, he and the president of a division had a more valuable relationship because now they could openly address the challenging issues and dissenting opinions that were previously simmering beneath the surface.

It’s powerful when leaders acknowledge their weaknesses, demonstrate their commitment to development, and make changes. The environment of trust you establish by accepting feedback graciously creates a collaborative two-way street. Directness and candor, when provided in the spirit of genuinely helping and supporting the growth of colleagues, can create a dynamic mindset that inspires meaningful change within teams. We all grow together when we can speak truthfully about areas that need improvement.

The informal 360 is a valuable tool for increasing leadership competency and a key to making yourself indispensable.

4 Strategies for Building a Hybrid Workplace that Works

The global pandemic has created new challenges and opportunities in almost every industry, and as the economy reopens competition will be intense. Winners will be those who most clearly understand their customer’s needs, collaborate to identify multiple solutions, prototype, iterate and bring new ideas to market. Those behaviors will only happen when people come together in the new, modern workplace.

By all indications the future of work is hybrid: 52% of U.S. workers would prefer a mix of working from home and the office, saying it has a positive impact on their ability to be creative, solve problems and build relationships. Global research tells us 72% of corporate leaders plan to offer a hybrid model, and only 13% say they expect to decrease their real estate footprint in the next year, suggesting that organizations will continue to leverage their workplaces within a hybrid work future.

But getting hybrid right will be hard. Deciding who works from the office and how often is a complex issue, and it will be different for every organization. If not done well it could threaten culture, collaboration, and innovation. Conversely, a well-executed hybrid workplace can be a magnet that brings people together and helps us work better than ever before.

Organizations who will win know that workplaces designed for people and the resiliency of their organizations will help them move forward, learn, and remain competitive. To start, more than 50% of U.S. companies plan to pilot new spaces as part of their return to the office this year, for example, repurposing a café into a high-energy social and collaboration space that better supports new hybrid work patterns.

As architects and office-furniture designers serving the world’s largest organizations, we recommend leaders think through four design approaches as you consider your hybrid strategy.

Braid the Digital and Physical Experience

As leaders of global teams, we know that bridging the gap between in-person and remote participants is hard, and hybrid work means there will inevitably be someone who is remote, regardless of well teams coordinate their in-office days. Remote colleagues can feel frustrated and unable to participate equally, becoming less engaged. This is especially true for creative and innovative work, such as brainstorming, which often use analog whiteboards or other physical products that are difficult for people on the other side of the camera to fully experience.

The solution is to integrate physical spaces and technology with three key concepts in mind: equity, engagement, and ease.

For example, currently, many conference rooms consist of a long table with a monitor at the end. In-person attendees sit around the table while remote participants are featured in a grid of tiny boxes, often on the same screen as any shared content.

One way to create more equity is to give each participant their own screen, placing monitors on rolling carts that can easily be moved around. Teams can pull a remote colleague into a breakout session or up to the table. Many software systems now let you split people and content onto separate displays.

To be fully engaged, people need clear sightlines to one another and to the content. Designing for employee engagement in digital-to-physical space means thinking like a movie director – lights, camera, audio, content. Some solutions we’re seeing are angled or mobile tables, additional lighting, extra speakers, in room microphones, and easy-to-move markerboards and displays.

In addition, research tells us more people will connect to a meeting on their individual devices as well as the technology in the room. Ample power supplies, whiteboards, and a variety of software solutions will contribute to an easier, more seamless hybrid collaboration experience for people.

Flip Enclosed and Open Spaces

It is time to rethink the open plan. For decades, individual workstations have become more open with ever-increasing density, while meetings are held in enclosed conference rooms. As people return to the office, these spaces will begin to shift. Meetings will happen more often in open spaces with movable boundaries, and individual focus work will happen in enclosed spaces like pods or small enclaves.

Open collaboration spaces are inherently more flexible because they don’t require fixed features in their design, so they can morph and change as new work patterns emerge. Innovation, problem-solving, and co-creation often use agile approaches — for example, quick stand-up meetings which require visible, persistent content which can be hosted in open spaces, defined by flexible furniture, easy-to-access tech, and other design elements.

Meanwhile, individual spaces will need more enclosure to provide different levels of visual and acoustical privacy that people have come to expect while working at home. Video calls will happen everywhere, so enclosures — screens, panels, pods — will give people places to focus and mitigate disruptions.

Shift from Fixed to Fluid

Buildings are built for permanence, meanwhile the pace of business and change continues to accelerate. We can see the tensions between slow and fast emerge in the rise of pop-ups and coworking models with demand for shorter lease terms. Most companies who have real estate are asking, how much space do we need?

The hybrid future solves for a more fluid workplace that can flex as needs change. Not only does this accelerate innovation and advance the culture of the organization, it can ensure real estate is always optimized. At Steelcase, we’ve optimized our own space by designing an open area that supports hybrid meetings in the morning, becomes the café at lunch, hosts a town hall in the afternoon, and can be rented for an evening event.

Balance “We” and “Me” Work

4 Ways to Overcome That Gap on Your Resume

The impact of the pandemic on careers and jobs has been massive. According to the International Labour Organization, as many as 114 million jobs were lost in 2020. In addition, the reduction of working hours was found to be equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. The impact on the labor force has been disproportionate, and in the United States alone, the women’s labor-force participation rate has dropped to just 57%, the lowest since 1988. Thousands, if not millions, are now trying to re-enter the job market after a career gap.

For someone who is attempting to re-enter the workforce now after a career gap  — possibly one that wasn’t by choice  the prospect of explaining the employment gap to a panel of interviewers could be an embarrassing and daunting one. It is also not surprising to find friends and family dishing out advice like, “Whatever you do, secure a job offer before you leave this one, or else you’ll have a hard time explaining a career gap.” Advice as such further reinforces the mindset that having a career gap is like having a demerit point on your record, so the discomfort is understandable.

I have worked with clients who had career gaps of varying length, and I often notice that with the steps illustrated below, it takes them little effort to change their uneasiness into a calm, quiet confidence.

Here are four ways to help you bounce back from a career gap with grace and class.

1. Clarify what you really think about your career gap

From my experience, what you think of the career gap often matters more than what the hiring manager thinks. When my clients themselves are uneasy about the discussion, they project that discomfort to the audience, and it might be described as awkward, tentative or even guilty. Most interviewers can pick up on that energy; as a person who has been on many interview panels, I can attest to that. When we dove deeper into what was behind the emotions in my clients, we realized that the source was a lack of acceptance of their employment gap.

Some clients did experience emotions like resentment (when a choice was not given to them), anger or self-doubt  all of which need to be processed, made peace with and then set aside. For the majority of my clients, once they come to terms with their career gap, they are able to speak about the employment gap easily and with confidence.

2. Practice your response

You can expect interviewers to be curious. They might ask an open-ended question, and you need to practice your response until it “rolls off your tongue.” You might be tempted to divulge too many details, but before you do that, consider what is valuable to the interviewers (and to you). You definitely want to maintain a certain level of honesty, but keep it to the point so you can move on to discuss other subjects  like why you make a great candidate for the role.

3. Focus on the learning you have gained during the gap

Life does happen to people from time to time, and jobseekers can help themselves by accepting responsibility for it  and handling it with maturity during the interview.

The interview panel might not be very keen to hear how life was mundane and dreary, so steer the conversation towards the learning that you’ve gained over the course of the months or years of your gap. 

Why You’re So Anxious About Going Back to the Office

If you’re feeling social anxiety about returning to the office, you’re not alone. Many folks are feeling unsettled. After over a year of remote work — and seeing our coworkers only on screen — the idea of seeing everyone again in person can feel overwhelming. And, since the Covid landscape is still in flux, it’s hard to feel sure about how long the “return to normal” will last.

You might be wondering why getting back to the office is rattling you so much. After all, you coped with office-life before. Here’s why the transition back to our glass towers might feel surprisingly difficult, and how to ease your reentry.

1. Transitions naturally spike our anxiety.

A lot of human psychology has an evolutionary basis. Familiar situations tend to be safer and more predictable for us. They allow us to let our guard down. In unfamiliar situations, we’re wired to be more on edge, and constantly on the lookout for dangers. Because of this, transitions tend to increase our anxiety. We’re always subtly on the lookout for potential threats. This reaction has an adaptive basis, but it can feel quite exhausting.

Think of how you’ve felt in your first six months in a new job. That’s a stressful period for many people as they learn new skills and procedures, and the cultural norms of their new workplace. Although you may be returning to your old job, a lot has changed, and it might be helpful to expect to feel the same type of adjustment stress. Give yourself the same grace and self-compassion you would if you were starting a new job or embarking on transition, like starting college or grad school. See this article if you need specific tips for how to be kinder to yourself.

2. Whenever you’ve avoided something, you’ll feel anxious about returning to it.

Imagine an elite gymnast who has been out for several months with an injury. They weren’t purposely avoiding training or procrastinating. They were benched because of their injury. Yet, when they return, they’re likely to feel a lot of anticipatory anxiety about performing moves they routinely performed before.

That’s how anxiety works, across the board. We feel anxious about anything we’ve “avoided” even if the break was externally imposed. If you’re a parent, you might find yourself feeling anxious about being separated from your child during the day, even if this was routine in your family before. Or, you may feel anxious about making small talk or managing other people’s personalities at work.

What’s the solution? Like the gymnast, when you gradually get back into your previous activities, your built-up anxiety will naturally subside.

3. Social relationships and boundaries have changed.

Pre-pandemic, it’s highly unlikely you knew much about your coworkers’ health decisions. Now, you’d probably quite like to know who in your office is vaccinated and who isn’t. Pre-pandemic, your colleagues may never have seen your home or your children, but now they have, thanks to all the Zoom meetings.

As people return to the office, some coworkers will likely become influencers. They’ll lead office culture and norms in terms of how many Covid precautions are kept up, and how vigilantly. Other people may be ostracized. For example, if they’re someone who chooses not to vaccinate and to keep masking, when everyone else wants to take their masks off for good. This shakedown may make the preexisting pecking order and popularity contest of the office even more obvious. For example, if “cool” coworkers are eschewing their masks, going out to lunch, and acting completely as before, but “picky” coworkers are still masking and eating lunch at their desks.

Likewise, some coworkers may be thrilled to get back to the office and find it helps their productivity, whereas other people may be feeling the reverse. People’s circumstances and natures are different, so your perspective won’t be identical to someone else’s. If a leader or coworker is shouting from the rooftop about how we need to get back to the office to regain productivity and camaraderie, they’re probably overgeneralizing from their own perspective and experience.

The solution to all of this is tolerance, acceptance, and refraining from gossip.

4. Be intentional about retaining the best parts of WFH and office-life.

Working from home was a big natural experiment. You might’ve learned a bunch about what helps and hurts your productivity, and helps you feel happy. Some of these insights will be practical, like you learned you really need the two huge monitors you had at the office. Or, you might’ve found yourself eating a better lunch at home, or taking more walks, and that those behaviors helped you mentally.

Some of your insights into yourself may also have been social. What did you learn about the social rhythms that best support your productivity? Did you develop new strategies for getting deep work done? Did you manage interruptions differently? Did you develop more efficient ways of communicating? What did you miss about seeing your coworkers in-person? What did you miss about not going to conventions or doing business travel?

Our behavior and habits are very influenced by our environment. If there are pandemic habits and pluses you want to keep when you change environments and go back to the office, you’ll need to be very intentional about how you establish those. You’ll need to purposefully form those habits in your new (but old) office environment. Without this, you’ll quickly go back to doing everything the way you did before.

Good habits that felt solid and well-established when you were working from home (like lunchtime walks or healthy lunches) will become very fragile when your environment and routines shift back to the office. You’ll need to establish these habits almost from square one, as if they were completely new habits. This is because habits need consistent cues, and the cues you had at home will likely no longer be present, at least not in the same way.

Feeling anxious about going back to the office doesn’t mean you’re fragile or have poor coping skills. There are good reasons that these types of transitions spike our anxiety. Try the tips mentioned here to navigate the shift as smoothly as possible, and to better understand the perspectives of your colleagues and how they may be navigating the transition back, too.

How to Find Free Money for Graduate School

That’s much lower compared with undergraduate students. More than 80% of first-time, full-time undergraduates at private, nonprofit four-year institutions received institutional grants, and about 50% of those students at public colleges received institutional grants, according to NCES data from the 2017-2018 academic year. Additionally, 33% to 38% of undergraduates at those schools received federal grants and 25% to 38% received state or local grants.

While scholarships for undergraduates are common, many students are unaware grants and scholarships exist at the graduate level. These forms of financial aid typically don’t cover a graduate student’s entire cost of attendance – a Sallie Mae study conducted in 2017, How America Pays for Graduate School, found that grants, scholarships, fellowships or tuition waivers typically pay for about 15% of grad school costs – but every dollar helps. 

Sallie Mae’s online tool, Graduate School Scholarship Search, allows current and prospective graduate and professional students to hunt for private scholarships and boasts more than 950,000 scholarships worth up to $1 billion.

“There’s a lack of understanding that there’s availability of scholarships for grad school,” says Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesman. “With grad students, they don’t know where to look. When we talk to them, they’ll just say they Google searched.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Castellano says students should feel more empowered to shop around and drive the conversation this year. “Don’t be afraid to negotiate for more aid,” he wrote in an email.

“The conversation is a two-way street; call your financial aid office, explain your situation (especially if it’s changed in light of COVID-19), and be open about what financial resources it would take for you to attend. You might be surprised by how willing a school is to work with you,” he says.

For prospective graduate and professional students, here are a few approaches to consider when tracking down free money to pay for an advanced degree.

Use Scholarship Search Engines

While Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search lists scholarships and fellowships available at the graduate level, other scholarship search engines list private scholarships for grad students in addition to awards available for undergraduate college students. A few of these scholarship databases include UnigoFastweb and the U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

GoGrad is another online resource that lists niche scholarships for prospective and current grad students. 

While graduate scholarships tend to be more modest compared with those offered to undergraduates, experts say a $1,000 award can still help reduce living costs and student loan borrowing.

Consider Free Graduate Schools

Students interested in attending graduate school may want to consider tuition-free programs.

For instance, New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine made headlines in 2018 when it announced a first-of-its-kind, full-tuition scholarship to all students. The scholarship amounted to $57,476 for the 2020-2021 academic year, and it is awarded to every student regardless of merit or financial need. It does not cover other fees and expenses. 

In 2019, the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine announced it would provide around half of its new students with free tuition, which amounted to $68,480 in 2020–2021. 

Identify Scholarships Available Via Professional Organizations

Students can apply for graduate scholarships by finding and joining professional associations in their chosen field of study. For instance, undergraduate and graduate members of the National Black MBA Association Inc. can apply for an award of up to $5,000. 

As another example, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation awards graduate scholarships of at least $5,000 to a varying number of dental students annually.

4 Imperatives for Managing in a Hybrid World

More than a year after the pandemic’s global debut, physical interaction is slowly resuming to workplaces in different parts of the world. However, hybrid work is here to stay, as remote and virtual work will continue for many. Now is a good time for executives to start planning what their hybrid organizations will look like, and how to manage them.

Our research team, which includes a past public company CEO and current chair of several boards, strategy consultants, and a professor at Harvard Business School, wanted to gain insight in how to approach this challenge. We interviewed and surveyed 38 top leaders at five global businesses in multiple Nordic countries, spanning manufacturing to consumer-facing sectors, to find out what are their biggest challenges in managing in the hybrid mode. Participants ranged from vice presidents to CEOs in rank.

Nordic leadership teams provide a particularly interesting benchmark for hybrid management since they operate in complex and challenging settings with multiple nationalities and native languages among top management. Just as test driving a car in more difficult terrain can expose weaknesses faster, interviews in this setting can surface challenges organizations face but may have been able to ignore or mask to date. As organizations model longer-term practices for the hybrid world, leaders should examine their organization for hidden issues that need to be addressed.

Our conversations surfaced surprising organizational tensions. To manage them requires new approaches and skills. We summarize our insights into four key imperatives that leaders need to observe to be effective in a hybrid world.

1. The Virtual World Does Not Treat Roles and Tasks Equally

The executives we interviewed say that hybrid settings bring with them several new types of tensions between different levels of the organization, and even among executives themselves.

The most surprising one is emerging within upper management itself. CEOs often say that they are quite satisfied with how effective their team has been in a virtual format. Yet, second- to third-level executives, such as the VPs and country leads just below the global executive team, are more skeptical.

To some extent, this isn’t surprising; one rarely makes it to the top of a global executive team without showing significant self-direction, soft skills, adeptness with ambiguity, presentation and speaking skills — traits that make team dynamics on Zoom thrive.

These skills, however, are often weaker at lower levels. Some executives and middle managers we interviewed said they were frustrated with their own virtual effectiveness and with the difficulties to express themselves fluently. This is worrisome, as middle managers are also usually the ones who have had to face and manage the new operational complexities first-hand. As the CEO of a European logistics company noted, “We carried out an engagement survey after the summer, and it became obvious that some managers were struggling in the new environment. Some managers were reactive rather than proactive, and in a way had disappeared. The subordinates were lacking in support or had increasingly tense interaction with the managers.”

So, CEOs need to be cautious about inferring that their own virtual experiences are representative of the whole company and learn what they can do to help support others. For the above CEO’s company, that meant “increased managerial training and mentoring” and making “some changes in top and middle management.”

Another tension we uncovered is who gets access to the best technology. The quality of video equipment, screen size, and web connections matter greatly for virtual impressions. During the pandemic, many companies deployed top-notch digital equipment to settings and roles where it delivers obvious returns, like teams dealing with customers or those that engage in complex strategic and innovative work where collaboration is key.

While this equipment can deliver a great ROI, they are not equally available to everyone — not even to executives at the same organizational level. In fact, our team concluded from comparing interviews within the same company that today’s broadband internet and top-notch cameras are “designer business suits.” Leaders need to be cautious that they do not make poor talent judgments and decisions based upon these conditions — just as the best-dressed employee did not always turn out to be the smartest.

Finally, executives that we interviewed predicted business travel will decline on average 40% in the post-Covid world. This can result in big and lasting differences in face time with the boss, even among personnel at the same organizational level. We may have settings where one has purely in-person relationships with some people and purely remote relationships with some others. Leaders need to be careful, again, about taking into account these dynamics for their employee evaluations.

2. Nuances Matter in People Management

Many leaders we interviewed explicitly or implicitly highlighted a “hybrid paradox”: While in-person connection is becoming less frequent, people skills become more important than ever. The best leaders listen and show empathy, allocate more leadership time to team management and coaching, enable versus control, and invest more in building a culture that reaches out of the traditional office and into people’s homes.

This is easier said than done. Executives lamented that it’s challenging to feel the whole team’s collective spirit and resolve. One simply cannot get a group reaction clear in a Teams or Zoom meeting, where each face a is just a thumbnail.

One leader identified places where body language might matter more or less: “Two times a year, [we hold a] review of business sites where we have the whole leadership team [along with] group functions. That [will be] done face-to-face in the future also,” he noted. “In the meeting you can read the person’s body language, colleagues’ expressions, etc. Currently we lack how the full team [is] reacting. But [for the] monthly business review, we can continue to do in Microsoft Teams, as there is no need to read the body language.”

The issue goes beyond regular meetings, too. Executives must increasingly discern what motivates or concerns individuals who they have not casually observed in the lunchroom or corporate retreat. For example, we all mostly smile at the camera once our video is turned on for something like a virtual happy hour, so it will take more commitment and skills for leaders to understand employees beyond what is being deliberately projected. In the hybrid world, this deep observational skill will become an essential leadership skill. One company went so far as to hire a psychologist to observe and help teams.

Ultimately, leaders will likely need to adapt their listening and communication skills. “Once we understood that [remote work] will not go away overnight, we decided that will have to adjust our leadership styles,” the CEO of a global consumer goods company stated. “I feel that the discussions, both in teams and one on one, have been more in-depth and personal as would have been the case face to face. I am much closer to my team on a personal level now.”

As communication has changed, however, many executives noted that slack time is vital for innovation and renewal. They often worry that employees may feel left alone, but employees also feel they are never alone — their calendars are always full of meetings, largely because follow-ups that used to happen informally now must be all formally scheduled. To address this, leaders will need to learn to be much more disciplined about their own calendars and those of their teams, balancing group and one-on-one discussions with time for more focused work or rest. Mastering people management nuances like these will differentiate good and successful leaders from those who are less successful going forward.

3. Strong Central Guidance Is a Must

Build Your Reputation as a Trustworthy Leader

His defensiveness was intense. He insisted he had kept his commitments, delivered positive results, and hadn’t ever acted deceitfully or unscrupulously. And all of those things were true.

Like many leaders, he was shocked to learn that the standards of trustworthiness have risen significantly as the world’s experience of honesty and trust have descended into a freefall. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that government, NGOs, and media have continued to lose trust while business barely hangs on as the only institution people view as competent and ethical. People’s expectations and definition of trustworthiness are broadening for leaders, and it takes a lot to gain that trust.

The findings of my 15-year longitudinal study of more than 3,200 leaders on organizational honesty for my book, To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice, and Purpose, also show that to earn and keep trust, leaders must accept that reliability and integrity are merely table stakes. They don’t, on their own, earn you a reputation of being trustworthy. They may get you labeled as dependable or easy to work with, but to be trusted consistently requires more. If you want to be certain that the people you lead see you as trustworthy, here are four practices to master. My research revealed that if you do, you’ll be 16 times more likely to earn and keep the trust of others.

Be who you say you are.

Consciously or not, we all navigate the world guided by a set of values that are revealed by our actions. We may say we value compassion, but if the first question we ask upon hearing someone plowed into our new car in the parking lot is, “How bad is the damage?” instead of “Was anyone hurt?” our commitment to compassion appears pretty thin. Others judge our trustworthiness by the extent to which our actions and words match. Here’s how to make sure they do.

Embody your stated values. The first thing you must do is articulate your values so others know what to expect. Importantly, though, good intentions don’t count. One of the issues in Gabe’s feedback was that he routinely extolled the importance of teamwork and being an “all for one” team. But during meetings, he became impatient with others’ updates and was sarcastic with his feedback. Although he didn’t intend it, his actions intimidated others and prevented them from participating, so he’d lost their trust.

Your values serve as a yardstick that others use to gauge their experience of you. If you haven’t articulated them, people are left to make assumptions that may not align with what you believe. And if you have articulated them, as Gabe did, be especially vigilant about embodying them. Make a list of your most important values and for each, define the ways you intend for them to appear in your day-to-day actions.

Acknowledge any say-do gaps. None of us are consistent all the time. Identify the places where your actions have belied your values, leading to unintended consequences for others, like Gabe’s behavior in meetings. Where necessary, apologize to those who’ve experienced those consequences. Otherwise, as with Gabe, the hypocrisy people attribute to you will erode trust quickly. But demonstrating humility for the impact of those moments can be a trust multiplier as people see that you’re humble enough to take responsibility when your words and actions don’t match.

Treat others and their work with dignity.

In an economy where people’s primary output is often a reflection of themselves — their ideas, insights, and ingenuity — the importance of treating both the contributor and the contribution with dignity is vital. People are more likely to trust colleagues who graciously regard what they do as a distinct part of who they are. Here’s how to do that.

Create opportunities for others to shine. Look for ways to allow others to showcase their talent. For example, invite people who don’t have high visibility to present their critical projects to wider audiences in your organization. Or encourage those who host meetings you attend to hear a pitch from someone you know has a great idea but is struggling to get it heard. Maybe you can connect someone you know with career aspirations to people within your organizational network who might be able to help them advance their dream. Become known as someone who dignifies the contributions of others by making sure they’re seen and celebrated across the organization.

Be a safe place to fail. Fewer moments call for dignity more than when someone’s efforts fall short. People inherently trust others they feel no need to hide from, especially in the shame of failure. When others make mistakes, even substantial ones, make sure that accountability includes keeping their self-respect intact. Balance expressing your disappointment with making sure you remain an ally, doing whatever you can to help them get back on track.

“Will I Ever Find My Passion?”

 I have a client who’s an engineer and feels he’s just going through the motions, afraid that his career will always be humdrum. He asked, “Is there any chance that, age 35 (I’m changing irrelevant details to protect his anonymity), I’ll find my passion and make a living at it?”

A prerequisite question is “Is finding a passion needed for career contentment?”

As I’ve written previously, because most people hold one of the same few passions: the arts, entertainment, the environment, helping the poor, and sports, the chances of making a living at a commonly held passion are not great. And because of the oversupply of willing workers in such fields, pay is often poor if not volunteer.

More often, career contentment comes not from passion but from work of moderate difficulty, some impact, a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable commute, decent pay, and job security.

But just because passion isn’t the key to career contentment, doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to make a living related to one’s passion. But many people, like the aforementioned client, have trouble identifying a passion. Here are some questions that might help you unearth one:

The question I asked him that unearthed a passion for this client was, “What were you attracted to as a child?” He said, “Hunting for unusual wildflowers.” When I asked if there subsequently have been other things like that, he said that he had loved hunting for used navionics (electrical devices for use on boats and ships.) The common thread was hunting, so we explored a variety of careers that required some form of hunting, especially those that would leverage his engineering experience. One example: becoming a purchasing agent for a boat or ship manufacturer.

If that question doesn’t work or you, might one of these:

What do you most like to read, watch, and talk about?

What do you give a damn about?

What activity most engages you, for example, talking with people, doing research, working with your hands, making art, starting a business, handling details?

What value most drives you: money, fame, a non-profit cause, glamour?

What’s an unusual interest of yours? (The job market may be better when you’re away from the madding crowd.)

To what or whom would you donate or invest a million dollars?

If you had a year to live, didn’t care what anyone thought, and had to be productive, what would you do?

The takeaway

Career passion may be oversold—Do what you love and poverty may well follow. Nevertheless, it’s worth at least a shot at unearthing a passion and then seeing if there’s a career in which you feel the risk of pursuing it is worth it.

10 Side Hustle Skills You Can Master This Summer on a Budget

Staying on top of new innovations and skills will help you become a better entrepreneur and a better person. This Memorial Day, you can set yourself up to learn a variety of new skills over the summer on a budget. The Entrepreneur Store has a wide array of courses covering myriad subjects on sale for unbeatable prices for the holiday weekend. You’ll want to act fast because these deals won’t last long.

1. Amazon FBA and Dropshipping

Want to start a side hustle? Dropshipping through Amazon FBA is one of the best ways to earn passive income. In this bundle, you’ll learn how to set up an online store, source inventory, and scale your store without ever having to put your hands on products.

2. Adobe Creative Cloud

Design is complicated, which is why it’s often expensive to hire freelance designers. Why not learn the skills you need to beautify your website and promotional materials yourself? This massive bundle covers the entire Adobe Creative Cloud, from Photoshop to XD, so you’ll develop a comprehensive design skill-set.

3. Project Management

Efficiency is everything in business, especially in lean times. Learning project management principles can help you keep projects on time and under-budget. In this bundle, you’ll explore several different project management methodologies, learn a variety of useful tools, and understand how to operate your business more efficiently.

4. Mobile App Development

Got a great app idea? Then it’s time to buckle down and build it! This nine-course bundle will guide you from ideation through to getting your app live in the App Store. You’ll learn how to build apps for both Android and iOS using tools like Java, React Native, Git, and more.

5. Full Stack Coding

The future is digital and learning to code will help you stay ahead of any and all innovation. This massive bundle includes 27 courses and more than 270 hours of training from the web’s top instructors. You’ll delve into web development, data science, software development, machine learning, and much more.

Rebuild, reskill and renew

With many businesses still recovering from the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 crisis, employers have to find innovative ways to maximise the potential of their staff. In many industries the priorities of entire workforces have totally shifted in the last 12 months, resulting in employees having to adopt new and refined roles.

It is critical that your managers become ‘adaptive change champions’. 

Here, we’ll discuss how businesses can present their employees with a vision for success, encouraging them to embrace and react positively to change.

The success formula

In order for employers to motivate their staff to adopt new roles they must first overcome two psychological factors that cause people to resist reskilling and taking on new roles:

  1. Humans are creatures of habit, so we all feel uneasy whenever asked to act outside our normal comfort zones
  2. We don’t like change because it creates uncertainty, and uncertainty is a demotivator

These two factors combine to act as a ‘psychological brake’ on people’s willingness to take on new roles, so managers need a way of taking off the brakes. Managers should learn, teach and talk about ‘the five-part success formula’, and its evil twin, ‘the failure formula’. As the names suggest, the success formula leads people to succeed, and the failure formula causes people to fail, and each person gets to choose which formula to live by.

The success formula can be summarised in five words: purpose, plan, action, setback, change:

  1. Purposes are the goals we want to achieve
  2. Plans are how we intend to achieve our goals
  3. Actions are the daily implementation of our plans
  4. Setbacks are the inevitable things that go wrong and that mess-up our original plans
  5. Changes are the adaptations, adjustments, modifications and updates that we must make to our original plans and actions in order to achieve our purpose and to prosper

We must understand that setbacks and change are inherent in the system and cannot be ignored.

The failure formula is the exact opposite of the success formula:

  1. No purpose = drifter mentality
  2. No plans = dithering and the repetition of obsolete methods
  3. No action = inaction, apathy, delay
  4. Ignore setbacks = evasion, willful blindness, head in the sand
  5. No change = stubbornness, refusal to adapt, modify, evolve, respond or retrain

4 Ways to Manage Your Energy More Effectively

Almost anyone can muster enough gumption for a short burst of high-energy effort. Maybe it’s making a shining impression your first few weeks on a job, hitting the gym with fervor at the start of January, or spending a weekend on a remodeling project exhibiting all the peppiness of an HGTV star.

But what about after that initial burst? Do you still feel the same a few months or even a year into your new job, goal, or project? Have you abandoned your ambitions? Do you continue to push on while fighting signs of fatigue or burnout? Or do you wildly vacillate between hyper productivity and getting nothing done?

The key to success at work and in life isn’t really starting strong, it’s staying strong. And one of the keys to having that staying power is the idea of self-regulation. This entails operating within lower and upper boundaries of activity by predetermining the minimum and maximum amount of action you will take toward a specific goal within a certain span of time (such as a day or a week). This keeps you from getting derailed because you dropped off or lost interest, or overdoing it and finding yourself too exhausted to continue.

As a time management coach, I’ve seen that there are four steps to creating this staying power. When you follow these steps, you’ll be surprised to find that you’ll accomplish more of your goals with less effort — and give yourself drive that lasts.

Set upper and lower boundaries 

The idea of goal setting is popular, especially at the start of the year. But not many individuals take the time to write out the steps that they will take to achieve their goals. And in my estimation, many fewer take the time to define their daily upper and lower boundaries for each of their goals.

In Greg McKeown’s book Effortless, he suggests the idea of making concrete boundaries for both how little and how much you will do in a given day on your important priorities — for instance, for hitting sales numbers, you may determine to never make fewer than five sales calls in a day and never more than 10 sales calls in a day.

You can extend this into any project or goal that you want to accomplish. For example, if you want to author a book, you might decide to write no less than 30 minutes per day and no more than three hours per day to avoid burning out. Or for exercise, you may decide to work out no less than three times per week and no more than five times per week, so you get a sufficient workout in  and also have time for your other priorities like spending time with your family or personal tasks.

These boundaries give you some wiggle room but also give you the ability to stay on track over time. When you’re setting your own upper and lower limits, think through what’s the least you could do in a particular area to feel like you are keeping up your momentum. The goal on the low end is to not feel like you “stopped” and need to exert extra effort to break the inertia and restart again. And when you’re defining your upper limits, think about where you need to limit yourself so that your investment in this particular area doesn’t take so much of your time that other areas of your life suffer.

Understand your tendency 

When facing a goal, do you tend to get into a high-drive gear and try to remain there 24/7? Do you operate at a low-drive level most of the time, often having to scurry to the finish line at the last minute? Do you find yourself vacillating between extremes where one day you compulsively work until the wee hours of the night, and the next day you crash and do next to nothing?

Depending on your tendency, you can proceed in one of the following three ways:

  • For those in the first, “high drive” category, you’ll need to give yourself permission to be human, to rest, and to have real downtime. Keep a close eye on whether you’re going over your upper boundary of activity and headed for burnout.
  • For those in the second, “low drive” category, keep a close eye on whether or not you’re staying above your lower bound. You want to ensure that you’re doing at least the minimum before chilling out (as tempting as that may seem).
  • For those in the third, “fluctuating drive” category, you’ll need to keep an eye on both bounds. Avoiding going over your upper bound should prevent you from falling below your lower bound the next day.

As McKeown wisely writes in his book, “Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.”

Build in rest and recovery

As humans, we’re designed for cycles of activity and rest. That’s why we sleep at night, why weekends are an essential part of a productive workweek, and why even elite athletes can’t work out every waking hour.

If you’re a high-drive individual, you’ll need to remain especially conscious about giving yourself planned times of rest and recovery. Since I fall toward this tendency, I make sure that my personal time isn’t as jam packed as my work time. For me, that means viewing my nonwork time not only as time to complete personal tasks, but also as time for rest. For instance, two mornings a week I don’t do my normal 5:15 am wakeup for swimming. Instead, I give myself time to contemplate life, read interesting articles, or simply sleep in. I also consciously take time on the weekends and evenings to connect with people without a time limit — just going with the flow and allowing things to take as long as they take.

If you operate at a low-drive level, make sure you’ve at least hit your lower boundary of activity before taking a break. That means that you can still take ample breaks, but only after you’ve made progress on a goal.

And if your drive fluctuates, you’ll need to remember to have rest and recovery on the days when you feel on top of the world and like you can work 24/7, so that you don’t crash the next day. That could include the basics like taking time to eat, moving from your chair by stretching or walking, and not staying up crazy late — no matter how energized you feel. Force yourself to stop when it’s a reasonable time for you to go to bed, so that you can begin again fresh the next day.

9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2021 and Beyond

It’s fair to say that 2020 rocked many organizations and business models, upending priorities and plans as business leaders scrambled to navigate a rapidly changing environment. For many organizations this included responding to the social justice movements, shifting to a full-time remote staff, determining how best to support employees’ wellbeing, managing a hybrid workforce, and now addressing legal concerns around the Covid-19 vaccine.

It would be nice to believe that 2021 will be about stability and getting back to normal; however, this year is likely to be another full of major transitions. While there has been a lot of focus on the increase in the number of employees working remotely at least part of the time going forward, there are nine additional forces that I think will shape business in 2021:

1. Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees. The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees, who have faced unprecedented personal and professional struggles over the last year.

It’s become clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, who see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organizations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

That’s why 2021 will be the year where employer support for mental health, financial health, and even things that were previously seen as out of bounds, like sleep, will become the table stakes benefits offered to employees.

2. More companies will adopt stances on current societal and political debates. Employees’ desire to work for organizations whose values align with their own has been growing for some time. In 2020, this desire accelerated: Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day. I believe CEOs will have to respond in order to retain and attract the best talent.

However, making statements about the issues of the day is no longer enough: Employees expect more. And CEOs who have spent real resources on these issues have been rewarded with more highly engaged employees. A Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organization acted on today’s social issues.

3. The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the office. Many organizations have already adopted a hybrid workforce — or are planning to this year — that enables employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or an alternate third space (coffee shop, co-working space, etc.). In this hybrid scenario, we are hearing from CHROs that the surveys of their own employees are showing that men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace, while women are more likely to continue to work from home.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. However, data that we have collected from both 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (during the pandemic) shows the opposite: Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers than those who work full-time from the office.

So if men are more likely to work from the office, and managers retain a bias towards in-office workers, we should expect to see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female employees, worsening the gender-wage gap at a time when the pandemic has already had a disproportionate impact on women.

4. New regulations will limit employee monitoring. During the pandemic, more than 1 out of 4 companies has purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated. Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organization with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information regarding the data collected about them. In 2021, we expect a variety of new regulations at the state and local level that will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees. Given the variability that this will create, companies are likely to adopt the most restrictive standards across their workforce.

Keep Brainstorming—Your Best Ideas Are Still to Come

Most people assume that lightbulb moment will arrive right away, when you’re feeling freshest. But according to new research, we’ve got it wrong. 

Across several studies, Loran Nordgren, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, and Kellogg PhD alumnus Brian Lucas, now of Cornell University, discovered a widespread, persistent, and mistaken belief that creativity drops off with time. They dub this the “creative-cliff illusion.” 

What’s more, they found, the illusion is self-defeating. The more people believe in it, the fewer creative ideas they generate. But with experience comes wisdom, Nordgren and Lucas learned: people who do lots of creative work do not fall victim as often to the myth of declining creativity. 

“People think their best ideas are coming fast and early,” Nordgren says. In fact, “you’re either not seeing any drop-off in quality, or your ideas get better.” By giving up too soon, we risk leaving our best ideas on the table. 

Nordgren believes bringing attention to the problem can help people unlock new ways of thinking. “People don’t maximize their creative potential, and part of that is because of these beliefs,” he says. 

Creativity Increases as You Brainstorm

Nordgren and Lucas began by recruiting a group of 165 online participants, all of whom had previously worked at charitable organizations, to complete a five-minute brainstorming task. Before they got started, participants were asked to predict their creativity during each minute of the task.

Next, participants set to work generating ideas for how a charity could increase donations. As motivation to keep the juices flowing, the researchers told participants they would be entered in a lottery to win $50 for each idea they came up with. 

Then, Nordgren and Lucas recruited a new group of online participants to rate the creativity of the ideas the first set of participants had generated.

Participants in the brainstorming task gave faulty predictions about their own creativity, the researchers’ analysis revealed. While people thought they would become less creative as the session went on, the opposite was true: their creativity—as rated by the second group of participants—actually increased. 

Confusing Productivity with Creativity 

Why do people so uniformly believe their creativity will decline the longer they tussle with a problem? 

Nordgren and Lucas suspected people confuse creativity with the ease of generating ideas. For many of us, early ideas come quickly, while later ideas prove more elusive as the brainstorm slows to a brain drizzle. This experience of difficulty could easily be misinterpreted as a decrease in the quality of ideas.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers repeated the same study as before, recruiting 191 new participants. This time, however, participants predicted their creativity after they had already finished generating ideas. 

It didn’t matter. Even after the brainstorming task was complete, participants incorrectly judged their later ideas as less creative—because, the researchers reasoned, those ideas were harder to access. Yet, as in the first study, the opposite was true: ideas that took longer to excavate were more likely to be truly innovative.

6 Leadership Paradoxes for the Post-Pandemic Era

The pandemic has accelerated a trend that has been unfolding over the last decade. As the world has grown more digital and complex, the range of decisions that leaders need to make has broadened, spanning from big picture strategic thinking to careful execution, to advancing technology roadmaps and upskilling and engaging employees. And decision-making criteria too have expanded, increasingly focusing on ESG considerations in addition to narrowly defined profit expectations. The past year has been particularly intense, pushing leaders to make decisions for which they had no previous experience — and do so quickly.

To succeed in this new era of value creation, leaders need new skills and capabilities. Our in-depth research of more than a dozen companies that have transformed and positioned themselves for success in this new world — including Microsoft, the Cleveland Clinic, and Philips — shows that leaders at these companies sought to be proficient across a wide set of characteristics rather than relying solely on their areas of strengths. They learned how to work together with others who have different backgrounds and different ways of thinking, and they emphasized collaborating together to lead their business despite all their differences. (If you’re interested in participating in a survey about leadership, you can find more details at the end of this article.)

The characteristics that leaders we interviewed considered most important in this new era align well with the six paradoxes of leadership described in Blair Sheppard’s recent book, Ten Years to Midnight.

Strategic Executor

Leaders who want to succeed in this complex and fast paced business environment need to have clarity about what the new world will look like and what their company’s place in that world is going to be. This requires highly strategic leaders, visionaries who can step back from the day to day to see where the world is headed, understand how value can be created in the future in ways that are different from today’s, and stake out a powerful position for the company.

Being a good strategist, however, isn’t enough. Leaders need to be equally skilled at execution. They need to own the transformation of the company needed to reach the future. They need to be able to translate strategy into specific executional steps and see that execution through to the end. They need to be able to make rapid operational decisions that help deliver the path to the future.

In many ways, the digital model of value creation may require even stronger execution skills than in the past, since there is so much to do to push the limits of what’s possible.

Humble Hero

The digital age calls for hero leaders, people who are willing to make bold decisions (like shedding certain business positions or staking out new ones) in times of uncertainty.

At the same time leaders need to have the humility to acknowledge what they don’t know and to bring on board people with potentially very different skills, backgrounds, and capabilities. They need to be willing to learn from others who may have less leadership tenure, but more relevant insights. They need to be highly inclusive and great listeners to understand not only new technologies, but also new ways of doing things that are different from how they did it before.

Tech-Savvy Humanist

While in the past, leaders may have gotten away with delegating the company’s technology challenges to their Chief Information or Chief Digital Officer, that approach will no longer work. With technology being an essential enabler for almost everything a company does — innovation, product management, operations, sales, customer service, finance, or any other area — every leader needs to understand what technology can do for the company and how.

At the same time, they also need to understand and care about people. They need to understand how technology impacts people’s lives and they need to help their people adapt to and adopt the many changes that technology will enforce. This means engaging people with a huge degree of empathy and authenticity — helping them to embrace the changes and co-own the transformation.

Traditioned Innovator

Company purpose and values have probably never been as important as they are today in a world of constant change and multiple disruptions.

In the midst of uncertainty, having clarity of purpose and values helps guide organizations through their path to value creation and relevance. While leaders reimagine their company’s place in the world, they also need to be clear and grounded about who they are as a company. They need to be clear about the organization’s reason for being — its purpose and values — to guide how they will uniquely create value in a way that engages others in their ecosystems and is relevant in the future.

At the same time, leaders need to innovate and try out new things — faster than at any time before. They need to have the courage to fail and allow others to fail as well. All this experimentation and innovation, however, must not be unbound — it must happen within the guardrails consistent with the company’s purpose.

High-Integrity Politician

In an ecosystem world where companies, institutions, and individuals must collaborate to create value, being able to accrue support, negotiate, form coalitions and partnerships, and overcome resistance is an essential leadership capability.

Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward. This way of operating, however, can only be successful if leaders establish trust and integrity as the bedrock of all their actions. Effective collaboration within ecosystems can only happen when the parties involved can trust one another. Customers are willing to share privileged insights and participate in ecosystems only when they can trust how their data is used and how they are treated.

And integrity will be key for managing the increasing regulatory scrutiny many companies are going to see. In a data-driven economy, integrity and trust are essential foundational conditions. These are values that cannot come from a computer — they require human leaders to make deliberate choices measured by their actions and words.

Globally-Minded Localist

Technology has erased many boundaries and distances — it’s much easier now to reach customers on the other side of the globe and to collaborate with people from far apart.

Almost by force, companies operating in the digital age need to think globally — even if only to gain access to insights and talent to serve local needs. This requires leaders who can think and engage globally, who will expose themselves to new thinking and work with people from all around.

At the same time, leaders in the digital age also need to be deeply aware of and responsive to the situation and preferences of individual customers and to the local communities and ecosystems in which they operate. Customers, partners, and institutions expect companies to be responsive to their specific needs, and leaders will certainly have to adopt a locally conscious mindset.

45 Winter Activities for Kids That the Pandemic Hasn’t Ruined

Winter is here, the pandemic drags on, and yet, kids still need to burn off energy somehow. With limited access to the places we relied on in past years (remember museums?), it’s time to get creative. Combatting winter stir-craziness is a long game, and having a few new go-to winter activities for kids can help those long, dark days inside feel less bleak. This list of COVID-safe activities includes some ways to get kids outside(which helps build strong bones and regulate the circadian rhythm), a few doable crafts that won’t ruin your house or make you lose your mind, and a handful of winter rituals that no childhood is complete without. Just remember that unstructured play is also really good for kids. These winter activities are great, but don’t be afraid to tell them to go play outside or let them get bored. 

  1. Make ice sun catchers. Fill a container with water, decorate it with leaves, berries, or food coloring, add string, leave it outside (or in the freezer) to freeze, and hang on a tree like an ornament, or near a window.  
  2. Put a marshmallow in the microwave and watch it quadruple in size
  3. Make monster prints in the snow. Cut cardboard in the shape of a monster foot, and draw an outline your kid’s shoe on it. Punch two holes near the top and the bottom, thread string through the holes, and tie the feet to your kid’s shoes. Let them stomp around in the snow and leave the impression that Bigfoot’s come for a visit. 
  4. Make a snow volcano. It’s the classic baking soda and vinegar experiment, just inside a volcano shaped heap of snow. 
  5. Put on as many layers of winter clothes as you can and then have a hula hoop contest. The limited mobility makes it extra challenging, and funny. 
  6. Make reindeer food. Combine oatmeal (for taste) and glitter (so the reindeer can see it) and sprinkle it around the yard. 
  7. Make an ice sculpture. Fill different containers with water and a little food coloring, wait for them to freeze, and then arrange them however your artists heart desires. To get them to sick, try pouring a little hot water on their edges to melt them and then watch as they freeze back together
  8. Do cookie-cutter snow painting. Stick a cookie cutter in the snow and paint the snow within with watercolors. 
  9. Play secret snowflake. Each family member gets assigned another family member and spends the day doing nice things for them. That night, everyone tries to guess who their secret snowflake was.
  10. Play tic-tac-toe in the snow. Just use a stick or a finger to draw a board. 
  11. Make maple syrup snow candy. It’s as easy as boiling down some maple syrup and then pouring it onto snow to cool and harden. 
  12. Build an ice rink in your backyard. (It’s easier than you think.)
  13. Make snow ice cream.
  14. Make snow! You just need 6 parts baking soda and 1 part shampoo. 
  15. Get an outdoor thermometer. Teach kids how to read it and have them check it each morning.
  16. Try your hand at building a cooler entirely out of ice, à la this guy.

A Letter to My Children

Dear Marv, Mareon, Murrell and Mya,

I have something to tell you. Something I want to talk about. 

It’s something I’ve mostly kept to myself up to now, and you might not fully understand it right at this moment, but I need for you to hear it.

It’s tough to talk about even all these months later, but after your little brother Marlo passed away in December….

Daddy was ready to call it quits.

Not just football, either. I’m talking just get away from … everything.

Leave the country. Move to Spain. Hunker down. Just us and Mommy. That sort of thing. Never talk to anyone ever again, never have to face anyone or discuss anything, just shield us all from the entire outside world. You know what I mean?

We were all just struggling so much.

Mom and me was one thing, but hearing Mya ask, “When is Marlo coming back down from heaven?” Seeing that teddy bear that you guys called by his name? It was beyond heartbreaking.

We always told you guys it was O.K. to cry and to let your feelings out.

But sometimes that’s not so easy. Even for Dad.

Me and Mommy tried our best to stay strong in front of you guys, and to make sure you understood that we were going to get through this no matter what. We knew you’d be watching us — looking to us for how we were handling such an unimaginable tragedy. So we did our best. But the reality is.…

I was really hurting.

Early on I’d try to act “normal” all day and not show any hurt, and then I’d just lie down in bed at night and it’d all come out at once. So, yeah, those first few days, it all just felt like too much.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

I mention all that stuff because I need you to understand the backdrop for what I do want to talk about. And that is….

What happened next.

A few days after our little angel left us, as sad as we all were … something truly amazing happened. Something inspiring.

And that’s actually what I want to tell you about.

All of sudden, folks just kept showing up at our front door. And, at first, I gotta be honest … I didn’t want to answer. But the doorbell just kept ringing.

Matthew and Kelly Stafford.

Danny Amendola.

Kenny Golladay.

Coach Patricia. Coach Prince. Other members of the organization. 

All showing us love. Giving us support. Letting us know that they were there for us.

I mean, you guys … it was so moving what they did for our family.

I’m getting choked up right now just sitting here writing about it. But back then? In that moment? I’m not lying when I say that their visits, that support….

It changed something inside of me.

I went from wanting to be closed off and isolated from pretty much everyone to realizing beyond a shadow of a doubt that our family needed all the love and support we could get.

So after those first few visits, our door was wide open. You guys remember it. Everyone in the family flew up to Michigan. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides. Auntie Leslie even flew in from China.

Everyone rallied around us.

And as tough as those first few days were, I always want you guys to remember how our family and friends came together to lift us up and help us all get through the most difficult experience of our lives.

Local businesses and restaurants sent over food and care packages. Police and firefighters stopped by to lend their support. Friends, sports fans, and just regular folks from all around the world sent us their well-wishes and shared their stories of loss with us to make sure we knew we weren’t alone. 

It was powerful. And it goes to show something I want you guys to always remember…. 

It really does take a community sometimes. Sometimes you can’t do things on your own.

People need people.

Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?

These are inspiring examples, to be sure—but Dashun Wang didn’t think they told the whole story. Why did these individuals ultimately succeed, when so many others never manage to get past their failing phase?

“If we understand that process, could we anticipate whether you will become a winner, even when you are still a loser?” asks Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, who directs the Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI).

In a new paper published in the 150th anniversary issue of Nature, Wang and colleagues developed a mathematical model to pinpoint what separates those who succeed from those who merely try, try again. Along with PhD student Yian Yin and postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang at CSSI, and James A. Evans of the University of Chicago, Wang found that success comes down to learning from one’s prior mistakes—for instance, continuing to improve the parts of an invention that aren’t working rather than scrapping them, or recognizing which sections of a denied application to keep and which to rewrite.

But it’s not simply that those who learn more as they go have better odds of victory. Rather, there’s a critical tipping point. If your ability to build on your earlier attempts is above a certain threshold, you’ll likely succeed in the end. But if it’s even a hair below that threshold, you may be doomed to keep churning out failure after failure forever.

“People on those two sides of the threshold, they could be exactly the same kind of people,” says Wang, “but they will have two very different outcomes.”

Using this insight, the researchers are able to successfully predict an individual’s long-term success with just a small amount of information about that person’s initial attempts.

Measuring Success in Three Different Domains

A growing body of research supports the idea that failure can make you better off in the long run. Indeed, in another recent study, Wang himself found that an early career setback often set up scientists for later success.

However, as the stories of Ford, Edison, and Rowling plainly demonstrate, the road to success typically involves more than a single setback. “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over.” And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people.

To understand why, Wang and his colleagues needed a lot of information about the process of falling, getting back up, and trying again.

They turned to three massive data sets, each containing information about very distinct types of failure and success: 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015; the National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 startups to receive venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016; and the Global Terrorism Database, which includes 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

These sources allowed the researchers to track groups and individuals as they made repeated attempts over time to achieve a goal: obtain grant funding, lead their company to get acquired at high values or achieve an IPO, or, in the case of terrorist organizations, execute an attack with at least one fatality—a grim measure of success, to be sure.

The three domains “can’t be more different,” Wang says, “but as different as they seem, what’s interesting is that they all turn out to show very similar, predictable patterns.”

What Makes You Successful: Luck or Learning?

With data in hand, the team began thinking about success and failure at the simplest level. Success, they theorized, must be the result of one of two basic phenomena: luck or learning. People who become successful in a given area are either improving steadily over time, or they are the beneficiaries of chance. So the researchers tested both theories.

If wins are primarily the result of chance, the team figured, all attempts are equally likely to succeed or fail—just like a coin toss, where what happened before doesn’t much influence what happens next. That means the typical person’s hundredth attempt won’t be any more successful than their first, since individuals are not systematically improving.

So the researchers looked at the first attempt and the penultimate attempt (the one right before a win) for each aspiring scientist, entrepreneur, and terrorist in their dataset. To measure improvement (or lack thereof) over time, the researchers looked at changes in how the scientists’ grant applications were rated, the amount of venture funding the startups received, and the number of individuals wounded in terrorists’ attacks.

Analysis revealed that the chance theory doesn’t hold up. In all three datasets, an individual’s second-to-last attempt did tend have a higher probability of success than their very first effort.

Yet people weren’t learning in the way the researchers had expected. The classic idea of the learning curve says that the more you do something, the higher your proficiency gets. So if everyone in the dataset was reliably learning from their prior failures, their odds of success should increase dramatically with each new attempt, leading to short-lived failure streaks before success.

But the data revealed much longer streaks than the researchers anticipated.

“Although your performance improves over time, you still fail more than we would expect you to,” Wang explains. “That suggests that you are stuck somewhere—that you are trying but not making progress.”

In other words, neither of the two theories could account for the dynamics underlying repeated failures. So the researchers decided to build a model that accounted for that.

4 Clues to Help You Choose an Effective Business Name

It is the central theme and the very foundation on which your business stands. Everything else revolves around it. 

When people hear your brand name, it should immediately give them an idea of what your business is. Whether this is true depends on the effectiveness and relevance of your business name to your business. Imagine a brand called “Oblivious Designs.” What first comes to mind? Fashion? Architecture? Now imagine that this brand tells you they are into food production and distribution, or that they are a security company.

Be conscious of the fact that whenever people hear your business name, they start forming mental pictures of what your business is about. Therefore, you must take due care and give proper thought to your choice of a business name.

Your business name confers identity on your business. Many businesses have failed simply because they chose the wrong business name. Choosing an effective name is vital to how your brand is perceived, which affects how it will be received in the market. Below are four clues that will help you choose an effective business name.

1. Your choice keywords are in high demand

The key element of an effective business name is that it can attract traffic on its own. Your ideal business should be solving a problem that people have. If it is, then people should already be searching for the solutions you provide.

With tools from Google such as Google Trends and the search function, you can find details of how people are searching for your business solution. With Google Trends, you can keep track of past trends in line with your business offering. You can also see current trends and determine how it affects your business and choice of a business name.

If you are looking to choose an effective business name, you must already have suggestions in mind. The point here is to plug those keywords into tools. These tools would show you the demand for those keywords. If your chosen keywords are in high demand, you are unto something.

2. Your business name options are original

There is hardly anything new under the sun. But choosing a business name that is already in use is a bad idea. Rather than impress people, this will turn them off. Worse still, you may never hit the ground running as the existing name will overshadow yours until it becomes non-existent.

Imagine that another brand springs up today with the name ‘Mark Donalds’. Not only can they get sued, but they would also earn the dislike of the larger populace. People want to see that you put in the necessary effort in your quest to serve them.

Business naming could be a tough process, no doubt, but the end is rewarding. A good brand is known for originality, ingenuity, and authenticity. With these qualities, everything that represents the brand and everything the brand stands for becomes valuable to her target audience.

Take advantage of different business naming services and their plethora of naming methods. One such service asks you to input the keywords that represent your business. With these keywords, it will generate some combinations and name options that could work for your brand. An example is NameOyster which generates names using artificial intelligence.

Another good example is Brand New Name. They offer a crowdsourced approach to business naming. The way it works is that they will give you access to a platform to run a contest and engage hundreds of talented creatives who will generate inspiring and innovative name ideas for your product and business. And to ensure that you get the best result, a prize is awarded to the best idea, driving the creatives to offer powerful options in hopes of winning.

3. Make sure your keywords are legally available

As many experienced business owners can attest, it is possible to come up with an amazing business name, start working on the brand identity creation (including logo and other branding items), only to find out that the business name is not legally available for use.

To avoid wasting effort and resources, consider the legal availability of your options. The regulatory bodies usually have a business availability checker on their portals. You can also file for a business name availability check physically.

Top Tips for Virtual Networking

The introduction of the smartphone means people are walking around with a very powerful computer in tow. These devices are instrumental in creating the global society in which we live. As a result, social virtual networking has ballooned and along with it the number of people in our networks that we will never meet face-to-face. The question is how can we best build professional relationships in the face of virtual networking?

To start, it’s important to remember that networking is not a one-size fits all endeavor. This applies to virtual networking too. You need to network in ways that are productive for you. Networking is important despite your age or stage in your career. Opening up your network allows you to tap into opportunities that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. 

Top tips on how to best develop and utilize a virtual network:

Clean-up Your Digital Presence 

Before you start to increase your virtual networking activity, be sure your profiles are clean, error-free and present you and your accomplishments professionally. Remember the “Grandma rule”, if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it, then don’t post it.

Be Proactive 

Follow 5-10 professional contacts you don’t know well, yet. Take note of what platforms that use most often. Look for appropriate opportunities to share their tweets with your followers or answer a question they posted to Linkedin. Take it easy with this process, once every few weeks is great. A stronger network tie won’t happen overnight.

Provide Value 

Take the time out to locate valuable information and share it with a loose connection. Share a pertinent news article or video clip from the local news, something to resonate with their business or service…it could be something they would never see if not for you.

Build a Personal Brand and Draw People To You

Start by sharing an article and commenting on it. Don’t be afraid to utilize technology to write and post an article to LinkedIn. When you are seen as a leader, you will see an increase in the number of people that reach out to you.

Use virtual networking as an addition to, not a replacement for personal interaction 

Yes, it is difficult to have a cup of coffee with your contact in the UK, but you can schedule a call or a video conference to discuss industry news. 

Think about planning your travel to include time for a meeting with a colleague you’ve never met. Give them advance notice and see if you can get on their schedule for coffee. If you are headed to an industry conference, the organizers might supply an attendee list, cross check it with your contacts and make arrangements ahead of time.

How Crisis Can Produce Meaningful Change

Tens of millions of American workers have lost jobs, experienced temporary furloughs, or have seen a significant reduction in business. The current situation has understandably led to feelings of fear and anxiety for many people. However, in times of crisis, there’s often more to the story. 

Major life disruptions are often a catalyst for a meaningful change, particularly in careers and business opportunities. Many in the workforce will develop new skills, connections, and opportunities that were unimaginable before the current crisis. 

At MMI, we know this firsthand because some of our valuable teammates came to us during incredibly challenging times. We interviewed several of our colleagues to help illustrate this reality.  

CAREER TRANSITION IN CHALLENGING TIMES

“I came to MMI in 2009 during the Great Recession. I was working as an insurance agent and paid on commission. Due to the economic downturn, I was not able to make sales because clients did not have the money and were even tapping their retirement funds to help pay bills. Since my income was low, I needed to find a position with a steady income that I could count on. A temp agency helped secure my interview with MMI, and the rest is history!” —Michael Franciscus, MMI Sr. Counselor 

“My first career transition occurred because of an injury where I became unable to walk for a time. I became a successful Realtor in a niche market, helping people with low income, bad credit, and mental or felony restrictions find rental housing. Ultimately, the goal was to help people restore their credit and become homeowners. However, when the housing market ballooned, this business was no longer sustainable, and I was left seeking stability. A family friend told me about MMI, where I’ve worked for more than 12 years.” —Damon Page, MMI Housing Counselor 

“In the early ‘90s, my husband was a partner at a music and entertainment retail chain. We both derived our incomes from this endeavor, but when Napster decimated the music landscape in the early 2000s, the economics quickly changed beneath our feet. By 2010, we were both unemployed.

“While my husband leveraged his network to start a new endeavor, I went to work for Consumer Credit Counseling Services, later MMI. Within a few months, I went from contractor to full-time team member. I felt fortunate, as the job change occurred in my early 50s at the height of the Great Recession. 

“Although I never dreamed that I would work in this capacity, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the regulatory and legal aspects of my job. I’ve since attained a paralegal certificate, which has further increased my capability and excitement about the work I do each day. The moral of this story is to stay positive, don’t look back—only forward—and if you’re middle-aged, you’re still a valuable asset to many employers with your broad knowledge and life experience.” —Jill S. Smith, MMI Sr. Compliance Specialist 

These are just a few incredible stories of professional transition that can originate from periods of disruption. We found it to be a theme among our teammates at MMI, with more than a dozen employees expressing similar stories—some dating back to the 1980s!

HOW TO MAKE THE JUMP 

While change is hard, it’s also hopeful, and there are some things you can do to help ensure that you emerge from disruption with a triumphant story of your own. 

#1 Anticipate an earnings decrease. A career transition can mean lower earnings, especially in the short term. Don’t be surprised or discouraged. Instead, plan ahead by reviewing (or creating) your budget, minimizing expenses, and identifying opportunities to improve your financial picture. 

#2 Commit to constant improvement. New careers often require new skills, and your perspective on growth and development is critical. Training keeps your skills sharp and relevant, increasing the opportunities available to you. With that in mind, commit to taking steps to grow and advance during the downtime. 

#3 Use your resources. Unemployment, underemployment, and other transitional disruptions often come with access to services and resources that were previously unavailable. Identify available support and ensure that you are receiving the appropriate benefits. If you need help finding them, visit benefits.gov and call 2-1-1 for information and referrals to meet your needs. 

#4 Don’t walk alone. Disruption can be a gateway to new opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that the journey won’t be perilous. Whether you need help evaluating your budget, identifying available resources, or just a trained support system, reach out to get the help you need. 

Why Don’t American Workers Want To Go Back To Their Offices?

Citing fear for their health due to COVID-19, and the newly-discovered flexibility working from home can bring, the study conducted by The Wellbeing Lab and George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Wellbeing of 1,000 workers representative of the US workforce right now, suggests that re-engaging workers in offices could be challenging.

With 85% of workers reporting that they feel worried or anxious about catching COVD-19, and 75.6% saying they feel unclear what actions they should be taking to manage this risk, workplaces need to be opening up conversations with their workers about what actions can be taken at an organizational, team, and individual level until a vaccine is available.  For example, Google and Facebook have responded by allowing their workers to continue working from home until the end of the year.

While this seems logical, if the option is available to workplaces, the data gathered also found that workers who had been back to their workplaces often over the past few months were significantly more likely to feel positive about returning to work (59.2%).  This suggests that where safe, opportunities can be created for workers to return periodically.  It is worth workplaces encouraging a mix of working from home and from their work premises. 

Of course, some workplaces have no option but to get workers back to their premises.  Given that the study found that 59.3% of workers, who trusted managers to make sensible decisions about issues that affected their future, felt positive about returning to work, it is essential that managers think about what they can do to improve workers’ confidence that they are committed to caring for their wellbeing.

Given 36.7% of workers reported that they are struggling with their mental health, in addition to providing PPE, checking people’s temperatures, and maintaining physical distance measures, workplaces also need to prioritize the following:

  • Gauging Workers’ Mental Temperature – Understand how workers are feeling about returning to the workplace.  Are they relieved at the idea of getting out of their house, or are they worried about caring for their health and finding new ways of safely working together?  Make it safe for workers to speak openly and honestly about their concerns and their hopes for creating new norms around working safely and productively together.  Think about and discuss “graded” returns to work, where possible.
  • Offering Free Wellbeing Testing – Encourage your workers to measure their wellbeing, so they understand what’s working, where they’re struggling, and what they want to prioritize when it comes to caring for their mental, social, and physical wellbeing.  Free tools like the PERMAH Wellbeing Survey (www.permahsurvey.com) provide confidential testing in just five minutes.
  • Recognizing The Symptoms Of Struggle – Educate your workers, so they know that feelings of stress and struggle are not signs that their wellbeing is breaking, but rather a reflection of internal and external challenges.  Some struggles are within a person’s control; others are not.  Make it safe to talk about the struggles that people are experiencing.  For struggles that can be controlled, help workers identify actions they can take to address concerns.  Consider whether adjustments can be made in the workplace to support people well.  And for struggles that cannot be controlled, encourage workers to practice self-compassion, and compassion towards each other, as they adjust to the ongoing uncertainty and changes required of them.
  • Encouraging Personal Wellbeing Practices – Give your workers access to short, simple, wellbeing training sessions, and small-group coaching check-ins that put simple, evidence-based, daily practices to care for their wellbeing at their fingertips. Help workers to support and celebrate each other’s efforts as they prioritize caring for their mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Recommending A Daily Dose of Leader Care – Teach leaders the skills to genuinely connect and coach their people through this challenging time.  Encourage leaders to deliver daily doses of care, compassion, and appreciation for their team members.  Help your leaders understand that it is more important to care for workers’ wellbeing than to manage performance during this time.
  • Planning Regular Staff Check-Ups – Invite your people to provide feedback and feed-forward in their teams and across your workplace, to continue co-creating a new working reality as circumstances continue to unfold.

The absolute best free online classes for learning something new

Do you miss homework? SAME. 

Perhaps you’re someone who craves constant learning and upskilling, a regular Hermione Granger who’d happily use a Time-Turner to attend three classes at once. Perhaps you’re someone who feels she could benefit from understanding things a little better, even if it’s just learning how the hell HTML works. Or maybe you’re genuinely looking at a change in career. 

Whatever you’re after, what more productive way is there to use the precious time that pops up between work, family, friends, binge-watching Drag Race, and self-care, than the noble pursuit of knowledge? Luckily, nerds, there are a whole bunch of reputable online learning platforms dedicated to helping you learn a few new things. 

Here’s a big list of places you can learn stuff for free, with some available for certification if that’s what your looking for. But most of these are just for fun, tbh. And remember, you don’t actually have to do anything with your downtime right now, these free courses are just here if you need a little brain spark.

So prepare your brain because here’s a big list of the best free online learning resources:

If you want to do free courses on the big academic platforms

Here’s what’s up with some of those major education platforms and how to enjoy classes for free (TL;DR basically you can do most courses for the fun of it but you don’t get a certificate — a verified certificate shows that you have passed an official course, plus you can add it to your CV or LinkedIn profile, which handy if you’re looking to find a new job. There’s also a difference between accredited and unaccredited courses, which you can usually check in the About page of the website.

edX

Everyone knows edX, the big name on virtual campus. If you’re looking for seriously legit online courses from the top universities in the world, this is your answer. Founded by MIT and Harvard, edX is a nonprofit platform aiming to change up education and allow people to learn without the usual financial or geographical restraints. And there’s a hardcore Star Trekcourse on there to presumably help you live long and prosper. (More on that below.)

If you have the coin, there’s a whole host of different types of courses on the site, and while yes, you could pay up and do a MicroMasters program (upwards of $1,200), MicroBachelors program ($166 per credit) or verified certificate (varies), you can also just study for fun for free. You can actually access plenty of the courses for free if you’re just doing this for the good of your own brain. 

Courses to check out:

FutureLearn

If you’re looking to learn a thing or two from cultural heavyweights like the British Film Institute, step this way. Privately owned by UK public research body The Open University and job-seeking giants The Seek Group, FutureLearn has teamed up with top UK educational and cultural institutions for some niche courses that you can truly sink your teeth into. They’ve even built a section of “boredom busting” courses for people spending a lot of time at home these days — one of which is a virtual tour of Ancient Rome, while another teaches you how to build your own mobile game. 

There are short courses and online degrees, depending on what you’re after, and you can access course content for free for 14-day periods, pay for an upgrade for a certificate, or an unlimited membership (meaning you can get certificates and take as much time as you like to finish the courses), which is $250 for a year. But if you want to just spend two weeks playing student on one course, it’s free online learning!

Courses to check out:

Coursera

Founded in 2012 by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera works not only with the top universities in the world — Stanford, Duke, Penn, University of Michigan, Imperial College London, Johns Hopkins — but also tech companies like Google and IBM to offer courses in computer science, data science, language, business and other areas. 

Coursera Plus is the platform’s paid annual subscription, which lets you access the majority of the courses and get those sweet certificates. It’s about $399 per year. That being said, most courses are available for free without the accreditation but with all the delicious knowledge. Hot tip: they’re offering free certificates for 85 of their courses.

Courses to check out:

General Assembly

If you’re looking to upskill with some of the preferred talents many employers are looking for in this digital age, General Assembly is a strong place to learn them. Started in 2011 as a humble co-working space, GA is now a global learning business attempting to close the “global skills gap.” GA runs a whole bunch of online courses in coding, design, data, marketing, business, and career development, so it’s all useful stuff in terms of stacking your CV, although notably, GA isn’t accredited by the US Department of Education.

GA’s full-time and part-time courses are pretty expensive (some up to a huge $15,960 for a full-on immersive course), but other shorter courses are free, like their handy coding course.

Free courses to check out:

Udemy

Launched in 2010 by founder Eren Bali, Udemy was set up as a means for teachers and instructors to create and run their own online courses. Now, it’s pretty massive, with 57,000 instructors around the globe, and 150,000 courses that you can open up on multiple devices — it’s even on Apple TV.

Most courses sit around the $15 mark on Udemy, but can go all the way up to $300. Luckily, there are free deals popping up all the time — Mashable’s shopping team publishes them often. Plus, Udemy seems to be aware of the importance of online courses in this new weird world. In April 2020, the team released the Udemy Free Resource Center, a collection of 150 free online courses to help people upskill. Plus, their courses are taught in over 65 languages. 

Free courses to check out:

Let Yourself Be Unproductive. At Least for a Little While.

Recently, my father died of lymphoma he could no longer fight.

“There are few people in this world who leave an indelible mark,” a friend wrote to me, “such that when you reflect upon their essence you can actually see their smile, hear their voice, and feel their presence as though they are there with you in the moment. Your father is among those few.” Every single encounter with him always left you feeling better about yourself.

The world has changed; it’s a lesser place without him.

I find myself a little lost. I’m scattered. Unfocused. Struggling to be productive. To move forward on anything in a meaningful way.

I’m experiencing a very personal loss and sadness right now. But I’m hearing other people describe similar struggles as we all experience this pandemic, this economic collapse, this awakening to the depth of racial injustice. That’s personal too.

I really don’t like feeling all this. It makes me anxious.

My instinctive drive to push past it kicks in. To plan and to-do list and schedule my way to productivity and achievement and forward progress. That, I know how to do. It’s my comfort during uncertainty.

But I also have an opposing impulse, a quieter voice, one that feels deeper, more profound, and even scarier: Stay unproductive.

At least for a little while. Feel the sadness, the loss, the change. Sink into the discomfort of not moving forward, not getting things done. In a strange way, not progressing may be its own form of productivity. Something fruitful is happening, we’re just not controlling it.

In this moment, being unproductive seems important. I think it’s what I must feel — maybe what we must feel — to allow for growth. To allow ourselves to pause in the liminal space, to linger with a question that this moment begs us to ask:

How can I allow myself to be changed?

Not, how should I change. Or how must I change to keep up with a changing world. And certainly not, how can I not change and preserve the way things have always been.

Those questions come from a habit of relentless productivity and achievement. But they miss what can be magical and transformational about this moment — our real opportunity.

Can you allow this change in your world — deeply personal and vastly global — to wash over you, shift your worldview, change you? Not with your discipline or drive, not from a self-directed, strategic, goal-oriented place, but from a place of openness and vulnerability. Not from willfulness but from willingness.

And in that pause and openness and vulnerability, can you listen — without defense — to the voices you hear and the nudges you feel? Can you find the emotional courage to follow your inklings, step by step, toward what, even just maybe, feels right?

For me, I long to be willing, to be molded by the loss I feel from my father’s death and the grace with which he lived his life. I feel sadness that I will never see his smile again or feel his strong, tender hands on my back. And I also feel excited that when I miss him, I feel him even more, and I can begin — in small ways — to feel my own smile, my own hands, showing up in new ways, more generously, more tenderly, more strongly.

We all need emotional courage because being willing to be changed means we must accept and admit that we are not in control and we don’t know. Two things many of us spend our lives scrambling and acquiring and competing and succeeding and workaholic-ing to avoid admitting. It’s disorienting to let go. To realize — to admit — that our control is really only a sense of control.

Which is why to slow down rather than speed up, to pause and feel, to approach this moment, with an openness and willingness to be changed, is really, really hard.

So what can we do to support ourselves through this moment?

That’s actually the wrong question. I have read — and followed — lots of advice about things we can do to slow down and leave space for change: meditation, poetry, walks, journaling, dream-work, and more. But these things can also get in the way because they reflect more doing. It’s trying to solve the problem with the same thinking that created it.

Here’s an alternative that has been working for me: Not doing. Or at least, less-doing. There are a few ways I’ve been entering not-doing space that you may want to try. Consider relaxing pressure on:

Your time

Walk away from your calendar. Leave that space for, literally, nothing. Not a thing. It’s not your writing time or even focused work time. Don’t fill those moments with the busy work of email and to-do lists. Allow yourself time out of time. Allow yourself to dawdle. I went food shopping with one of my daughters and she asked to take a certain road home. “But it will take twice as long!” I protested. “Who cares?” She answered, “It’s a beautiful drive.” And, in every way, it was.

Your thinking

Let your mind wander. When you go for a run, don’t listen to a podcast or even music, just run. When you fold the laundry, just fold the laundry. I’m not suggesting “mindfulness,” focusing on each fold as you fold. The opposite, actually. Don’t be mindful — that’s just more control, more pressure, more demand. Instead, let your mind go wherever it goes and, maybe, notice where it goes.

Your relationships

If you need a break from seeing people, allow for that. I have lovely, caring friends who have offered runs and conversations and I tell them the truth: I love them but, right now, I want to go running by myself. They understand. And if you do want to be with people, try doing it with curiosity and vulnerability, without wasting effort performing. If you’re listening, don’t judge or solve or offer advice. Just trust that your presence is enough. And if you’re speaking, ask only for an ear. “I don’t want advice,” you can tell them, “I just want to share what’s going on for me.” You’ll be doing them a favor too because you’re releasing them from having to know anything or perform.

When you relax the demand on your time, your thinking, and your relationships, you’re slowing down, reducing the load, and leaving space for feelings to come up. Maybe tears, maybe laughter, maybe boredom or annoyance. Maybe you’ll feel the stress of not getting things done, or the fear of missing out as people around you produce and network and market. Maybe you’ll feel joy and that might be scary too.

5 Ways to Improve Diversity Training, According to a New Study

Is that money actually creating meaningful change? In recent years, some social scientists have argued that it isn’t. And studies show little conclusive evidence that diversity trainings shift attitudes and behaviors in a lasting way.

But in a new paper, Ivuoma Onyeador, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, argues that we shouldn’t give up so quickly. She and her coauthors—Evelyn R. Carter of Paradigm Strategy Inc. and Neil A. Lewis Jr. of Cornell University—reviewed the existing research on diversity trainings and used that data to make evidence-based recommendations on how to improve them.

“Diversity trainings aren’t going anywhere. I think that they will continue to be part of the toolkit that organizations use to manage their climate,” Onyeador says. She and her coauthors “wanted to offer some guidance about how those trainings can be as effective as possible, so that people who are implementing them have a realistic sense of what they can do.”

Here, Onyeador offers five recommendations for building a better diversity training program.

Be Realistic about What Training Can Change—and What It Can’t

Too often, organizations roll out diversity training with aims like “improve our culture and our company” or “shift our culture”—aspirations so lofty they can’t possibly be addressed through training alone.

Truly changing an organization’s culture to make it more diverse and inclusive takes years, not hours, and it requires tools beyond training sessions. “There needs to be a multipronged approach to improving diversity and inclusion,” Onyeador says.

Training, she and her coauthors found, is much more likely to be successful when it’s paired with other offerings, such as systems that hold workers and leaders accountable for reducing bias, a well-functioning bias-response process, and networking opportunities for employees from underrepresented groups.

And it’s important to understand that there are worthwhile goals that trainings can’t achieve.

For example, “if the goal is to increase diversity at the managerial level, there may need to be a different intervention,” Onyeador says. She points to a 2006 study of 700 organizations that found that trainings failed to increase the ranks of Black and Latino managers—and sometimes even caused managerial diversity to decline. A combination of mentorship programs and diversity oversight structures, by contrast, increased managerial diversity by 40 percent.

Set Better Goals, and Give Employees the Tools to Reach Them

So what is a realistic goal for a diversity training program?

Onyeador, Carter, and Lewis found that most effective diversity training programs help participants identify and reduce bias. “That’s what we argue is the proper outcome of a training,” Onyeador says.

It’s important that participants walk away with not just an awareness of bias, but also with specific tools to help them behave differently in the future. “Some people do want to change their behavior, but they don’t know how,” Onyeador says. It’s best, she and her coauthors propose, for facilitators to leave participants with two to three concrete strategies.

However, even the relatively modest aim of helping employees acknowledge and reduce bias may require larger investments of time and effort than many organizations are used to. Unlearning patterns learned over the course of a lifetime is a gradual process. For that reason, Onyeador suggests a series of workshops instead of a one-off training session.

Looking back on her own experiences as an undergraduate, “there was some diversity content at the beginning of the year, and then we never addressed any of it again,” Onyeador recalls. “A different approach might have been to have a series of all-campus conversations throughout the year. Obviously, it’s hard to coordinate, but it sends a signal that this is really important.”

Follow-up and reinforcement is essential. One study the authors reviewed found that accountability structures, such as affirmative-action plans, diversity taskforces, and departments devoted to diversity, produced significantly better outcomes than trainings alone. Another study suggested that, without reinforcement, bias can return to its pre-training levels in just 24 hours.

Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Often, companies are wary of diversity trainings because they’re afraid of making employees uncomfortable. It’s an understandable instinct: people from both racial majority and minority groups feel anxious when they talk about race and prefer to avoid the topic. Discussions of racism can also bring about defensive reactions among members of racial majority groups.

These kinds of anxieties have led many organizations to embrace trainings centered around the idea of implicit bias—the idea that unconscious attitudes and stereotypes shape our behavior. “One of the reasons people use the implicit-bias framing is that it makes participants, white participants in particular, less defensive,” Onyeador explains.

“It’s really important that the training not assume that everyone in the audience is a potential perpetrator of prejudice, but acknowledge that some people are targets.”

— Ivouma N. Onyeador

The approach has merits and downsides. “Some of my work shows that when we frame discrimination in terms of implicit bias, people are less willing to hold discriminators accountable for their behavior,” Onyeador says. “That’s an unexpected consequence and not a good one.”

Instead of trying to avoid defensiveness and frustration, it’s important for facilitators to plan for them. That means not ignoring negative reactions, but actually calling attention to them. “Facilitators can help participants investigate, in a compassionate manner, why they’re having that defensive response,” Onyeador says.

Facilitators can also face resistance from minority-group participants who may resent content geared only toward the majority group—so it’s essential to make sure the curriculum speaks to all participants. “It’s really important that the training not assume that everyone in the audience is a potential perpetrator of prejudice, but acknowledge that some people are targets,” Onyeador says.

Taking time to acknowledge what it’s like to be on the receiving end of prejudice—and calling attention to resources for reporting mistreatment—may actually benefit majority group members, she points out: hearing what it’s like to be a victim “can increase empathy, and help with perspective-taking.”

I Tried 4 To-Do List Methods. Here’s What Worked.

You know that slimy, green ghost from Ghostbusters? The one that floats around eating everything in sight?

That’s kind of what my to-do list reminds me of. Every day it just grows bigger and bigger as I desperately try to get it under control. (Anyone have an extra proton pack lying around?)

Things weren’t always this way. My brain changed during my first year of college. Suddenly, it felt impossible to remember things as well as I used to. There was so much to keep track of: homework, internships, extracurriculars, where I put my car keys. It was around this time that I started experimenting with different planners and to-do lists.

Sadly, I’ve never quite mastered the whole “productivity” thing, at least not in a cohesive way. There are a lot of methods out there for staying organized, and over the years, I’ve tried most of them: keeping my to-do list in notebooks, bullet journals, paper planners, phone apps, and hundreds of color-coded Post-its plastered to my desk.

Nothing has stuck… yet.

This year, I decided enough is enough. I scoured HBR’s archives for research on the best to-do list methods out there and pledged to give my four favorites a try.

For four days, I tried four different strategies. Every morning, I set out to complete 12 tasks that required a similar amount of effort, time, and focus, and eight of which were important for me to complete by 5 PM. The number of meetings I had between Monday and Thursday did vary slightly (I’ve noted where this may have been a factor). At the end of each day, I measured my overall productivity and stress-levels.

Monday: No list, just a calendar.

As someone who often feels haunted by their to-do list, the idea of tearing it to shreds sounded amazing — so when I came across an article advising me to do just that, I was thrilled. “Stop making to-do lists,” author Daniel Markovitz writes. “They’re simply setting you up for failure and frustration.”

His idea is straightforward. Rather than relying on Post-its or productivity apps, use your digital calendar to organize your time. For every task you have to get done, estimate how long it will take, and block that period off in advance. Markovitz argues that this method helps you better prioritize your work, gives you built-in deadlines, and keeps you from prioritizing super easy tasks.

I gave it a try. Last thing on Friday, I took one final look at my list and scheduled all of the tasks I wanted to get done on Monday. I left some spots open for lunch, reviewing emails, and any last-minute assignments that might pop up.

Filling out my calendar ahead of time gave me a real sense of control over my time. But as the weekend progressed, I started to panic. As an anxious person, the “Sunday Scaries” hit me on Saturday around 2 pm. I found myself constantly opening Outlook to see what I had coming up. Each task seemed to be staring at me through the screen, whispering “soon.”

Once Monday morning came around, I managed to get it together. When that first *ding* chimed, notifying me it was for my task, I was ready to go. I didn’t have to use any brain power to figure out what assignment to tackle (a huge relief, especially on a Monday morning), and I finished it with 10 minutes to spare. The blocked time on my calendar also alleviated any pressure I would normally feel to respond to emails or multitask. That said, I did have to move some things around due to last-minute schedule changes.

My least favorite part of this method: Not getting to check off my completed task. Checking off tasks literally releases dopamine in our brains, a neurotransmitter that make us feel light and happy — and WOW did I miss that feeling.

Tasks assigned: 12
Tasks completed: 8

Pros:

  • Limits indecision
  • Good for scheduling work-life balance
  • Keeps you on-task

Cons:

  • Scary to look at
  • Tasks may get rearranged with schedule changes
  • No checking off completed tasks (or dopamine)

This method is good for… people who like structure, who aren’t afraid of a crowded calendar, or who love planning ahead.

Would I do it again? As much as I love the idea of straight up shredding my to-do list, if I were to try this method again, I would approach it a bit differently. I would keep a written to-do list and schedule items from it on my calendar each morning. That way, I get both the structure of time-boxing tasks and the satisfaction of crossing them off.

Tuesday: Keep a running list but do just “one thing” on it.

Our brains start to get overwhelmed as soon as we have more than seven things to choose from. For me, this is a reoccurring issue. Sometimes my to-do list is so long that I completely shut down. Instead of deciding on a task to tackle, I stare off into the distance and think non-work thoughts. (If aliens exist, why haven’t they contacted us yet?)

The tactic I tried Tuesday, which I call the “do one thing” method, would supposedly help me overcome this problem. It’s a strategy highlighted in Peter Bergman’s article, “Your To-Do List Is, in Fact, Too Long.” The core concept is: Keep your to-do list, but use it only as a reference — not something to work off of. Every time you want to tackle a task, write it down on a Post-It and stick it where you can see it. Then, hide your full list and focus. Once you finish your chosen task, cross it off your list, and start again.

The idea here is that by selecting one task at a time, you’re more likely to follow through on it, as opposed to hopping half-heartedly from task to task (or just staring off into space).

A CEO’s Guide to Planning a Return to the Office

Because of such hopeful signs, CEOs at companies that remain all-remote are starting to think seriously about how and how much to bring their employees back to the office, and how to best answer questions about policies and timelines their boards will soon ask. They realize that given all that has happened over the last year, more employees than ever before will work remotely, and for tasks that can be done more efficiently that way, investments in technology are necessary.

Less clear are answers to other types of questions that only the CEO can address because they’re more strategic and fundamental to the nature of the organization, such as: How to handle tasks and decisions which are best done face-to-face even if many employees today say they prefer to work remotely? What will be the longer-term impact on the culture of dividing the work force? When do I have to make these choices? Whom should I listen to, and when?

While specific answers to such questions depend on the unique situation each leader faces, the guidelines below may help.

First, wise leaders will resist pressure to define a policy or make final decisions until it’s necessary to do so. We are getting nearer to the end of the pandemic each day, but we are not there yet. With uncertainty about what lies ahead, it is important to avoid steps that will either create unrealistic expectations or limit options. For such big, consequential decisions, one key success factor is to buy time to gather more information and leave options open as long as possible.

Second, in discussing return-to-work options and scenarios, leaders should keep their personal preferences close to the vest. In government, top-level leaders are taught to never reveal their policy preference to military or intelligence advisors too early to avoid influencing the kinds and quality of analysis. Likewise, at this stage, CEOs should ask questions and refrain from making declarative statements for as long as possible.

Third, don’t put too much stock in data gleaned from employee surveys. Many companies have asked workers how many days (if any) they want to spend in the office post-pandemic. Some HR departments treat these surveys as gospel. Much of the current public commentary on this question assumes that after it’s safe to return to the office, many employees will prefer to remain working at home for much of the workweek. However, wise CEOs recognize such opinions often change. What people say after a year of sheltering in place may not be meaningful this fall, particularly if by then they’ve had several months of living with fewer restrictions. In the same way that political leaders should not base decisions solely on public opinion polls, leaders must look at employee surveys as one data point.

9 Amazing Benefits Of Personal Branding

In the competitive work environment today where we seek to have impact, use our talents and support our life purpose, it’s a no brainer that personal branding is an important career development initiative. Yet many professionals feel they just don’t have the time or energy to build their brand. One question I’m often asked after my personal branding keynotes is what are the real benefits of investing in building a strong brand? Here are the nine most powerful results of uncovering, exuding and nurturing the brand called YOU:

1. You become famous—selectively famous, actually. 

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This is the most widely quoted statement Andy Warhol ever made. And I do agree with him that everyone will be famous, but I disagree with him about the “world” part and the duration. The personal branding angle on fame is this: You’ll be famous among the people who need to know you, but you’ll live in total obscurity in the rest of the world. Your aim should be to build a fan club of people who support you and who share your goals and values. The strongest brands turn those fans into promoters who tout their value to others.

Read the full article on Forbes, click below.

How Interruptions Can Make Meetings More Inclusive

I’m sitting in the back of the meeting, watching the minutes tick by, unsure how to interrupt the continuous flow of voices competing for airtime that make it harder and harder to get a word in edgewise.

I’m an extrovert/introvert mix by nature, but when the stakes are high and opinionated personalities crowd into a room, my default pattern is to shrink away from competing to get my opinion heard. I’ll often leave a meeting kicking myself for having contributed little or nothing at all to the conversation.

Many leaders today find themselves struggling to perform in high-pressure (and these days, usually virtual) meetings, either because their performance anxiety causes a heightened level of fear and paralysis, or because they end up having to compete with bosses and coworkers who overtalk and take up more than their fair share of space in the room. Still others work valiantly to insert themselves but are passed over or rendered invisible or silent because of implicit bias or exclusive group norms.

Whatever the cause, for both leaders who struggle to be heard and bystanders who want to hear more from quiet colleagues, the skill of interrupting can be helpful to practice to disrupt group norms and bring out reserved voices.

For example, my client, Max (not his real name), is an HR leader at a Fortune 500 company. He spends most of his days answering hard questions with polish and candor. But recent feedback from his colleagues revealed that he’s perceived as avoiding hard, messy conversations around diversity and inclusion, and he admits that when he doesn’t know the right words, he can freeze or clam up in meetings.

For two months now, Max has been trying out a new practice when this happens: interrupting. Whenever the conversation moves toward a tense or complicated topic, Max inserts himself by saying, “I get that this is messy, and I want to try to share my perspective,” which allows him to participate powerfully and paves the way for him to share imperfectly. This simple practice has helped him stay present and vocal in these hard subject areas. It also invites others to participate in these challenging conversations.

Interrupting is controversial. When we’re interrupted while speaking, we can feel disrespected, and men tend to view women who interrupt as rude. Conversational style can also play a part in how a person views an interruption, as can cultural context.

However, as we work toward more inclusive workplaces, leaders can learn how to interrupt with respect to make space for the voices that are often silent or marginalized. The following tips can help you skillfully interrupt and bring yourself and others forward.

Start by noticing.

Observe the conversational dynamics and patterns in the room. Who’s talking a lot and who isn’t? Tune into self-awareness to notice your own contributions. Are you holding back? Are you oversharing? Evaluate how much psychological safety exists in the meeting and consider the topics that aren’t being voiced aloud. You can also review a video recording of the meeting to notice the patterns that aren’t visible in the moment.

Practice speaking up early.

If your tendency is to hold back, try speaking up in the first 30% of the meeting. When we take a risk and use our voice early — even in a simple act of noticing and naming — we can interrupt our brain’s proven fear-based amygdala response, making it easier to speak up later in the meeting. Answer a question early on or make small talk with a colleague before the meeting starts to habituate yourself to speaking up and make it easier to contribute when the stakes are higher.

Pause the action skillfully.

In the book Subtle Acts of Exclusion, authors Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran stress the importance of interrupting microaggressions in real time with a simple phrase to pause the action while putting the other person at ease. Witnesses can interrupt by stating a helpful intention: “Can we pause to discuss something that was just said? I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by it, but…” This is a moment to reinforce the relationship by communicating that you want to help, calling the other person in instead of calling them out.

Be willing to get it wrong.

In coaching, the skill of blurting helps give permission to be clumsy, messy, and human in our attempt to speak our truth. Blurting asks that we be willing to not know the right words or have the perfect way to name what we need to say. Blurt by using “I” statements to ground your observations in your own experience. For example, “I noticed that Karim was going to say something back there, can we go back?” or, “I noticed that I was holding back just there about something hard,” or, “I noticed that there’s something I want to say that’s messy, can I take a moment to try to put words to it?”

Design practices for interruption as a team.

Interrupting successfully as a team requires building a group norm of doing it with skill and respect and to not take it personally. Do your work’s cultural norms welcome interruption or punish it? Which topics and people can currently tolerate interruption? For whom is it not safe or accessible? Start a discussion to make your team aware of these dynamics.

In the practice of interrupting, clumsiness and awkwardness are a sign that it’s working. Over time, you’ll find it easier to insert yourself in spaces and make it safe for others to do the same. You’ll become more adept at finding the right moment to interrupt with fluidity and humility, and the systems and spaces you’re a part of may even come to welcome the interruption.

Creative Strategies from Single Parents on Juggling Work and Family

The daily challenge of feeding, caring for, and educating children is tough. Add the stress of earning enough money to sustain the family’s well-being and feeling fulfilled in your own career, and it becomes daunting. And solutions that work for each unique family can be hard to come by.

For solo parents — those who are single, divorced, widowed, or have partners away from home due to deployment, incarceration, disability, or work — the challenge is that much harder. Whether it’s staying up late with a feverish child, needing to stay longer at work, coping with a sudden emergency, enforcing house rules, or tackling the myriad of mundane decisions throughout the day, a solo parent does it alone. But knowing it’s all up to you can also be a profound, and often empowering, responsibility.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. After my divorce, I became more self-reliant, creative, and flexible in my parenting because I had to step up and make it work. As the founder of ESME.com (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere), I’ve learned that this ingenuity isn’t unusual — that solo parents often develop unique, problem-solving skills in response to their unique situations.

Here are just a few that I’ve observed through my own experience and in talking to a variety of single parents that all working parents can learn from as they navigate work and family.

Capitalizing on Stolen Moments

Time is a solo parents’ enemy — there aren’t enough hours in a day. Because of this, solo parents must identify where they can save time and prioritize what’s most important. They know they are not able to do it all and that something has to give, whether it’s a messy house, an extra hour of screen time for the kids, a shortened dog walk, or take-out for dinner (none of which impact their family’s well-being). Aware that time is a precious commodity, solo parents take advantage of small moments to connect with their children, fulfill their work responsibilities, and make the most out of their time by squeezing work and personal tasks into commutes, sports practices, waiting rooms, and odd hours. Solo mom and writer Joni Cole notes, “You can achieve good work in half-hour increments, and they add up.”

Figuring out ways to remain productive without busy work and long hours, solo parents challenge long-held assumptions about workplace efficiency and dedication. Moms who have to squeeze in a school pickup or dads who need to work from home when a child is sick are equally dedicated as workers with partners — perhaps even more so. Parenting alone inspires a healthy reframing of one’s relationship to work which is both liberating, rewarding, and instructive to those of us who need a reminder of what’s important.

Setting Up Unique Housing Arrangements

A solo mom in Los Angeles posted recently to our single moms’ group: “I am a single mom of two teenage daughters, and one is going off to college. I am interested in finding another single mom that would be interested in renting together… Maybe we have opposite parenting schedules?”

The traditional nuclear family arrangement doesn’t always support solo parent families well — financially or logistically. To lower housing costs and get help with childcare, many solo parents share homes and rentals or move in with extended family. Atlanta mom Kaleena Weaver explains, “I bought a house with a basement unit so my mom could move in. I cover all the bills, and she helps with the kiddo and household work.” Janelle Hardy single mom from Canada, opted to rent a large house so she could take in a roommate or two who enjoy being part of a family environment. Hardy also took part in exchange student programs to offset costs and have an extra set of hands while raising her children. Another mother, Lisa Benson, uses part of her home to rent out as an Airbnb for extra income.

The Science of Changing Someone’s Mind

A few years ago, I made the mistake of having an argument with the most stubborn person I know. R., whose initial I’m using to protect his privacy, is a longtime friend, and when his family came to visit, he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated — and never would be.

I’m no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but I was concerned for his children’s safety, so I started debunking some common vaccine myths. After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated. Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.

Then came 2020. Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19. It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community: About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines; 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.

I decided to see if I could open R.’s mind to the possibility. What I didn’t realize was that my mind would be opened as well.

As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again. I’ve run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters. But I don’t always practice what I teach.

When someone seems closed-minded, my instinct is to argue the polar opposite of their position. But when I go on the attack, my opponents either shut down or fight back harder. On more than one occasion, I’ve been called a “logic bully.”

When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong. Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire — and what doesn’t sway people may strengthen their beliefs. Much as a vaccine inoculates the physical immune system against a virus, the act of resistance fortifies the psychological immune system. Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against future attempts at influence, making people more certain of their own opinions and more ready to rebut alternatives.

That’s what happened with my friend. If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines, I had to rethink my approach.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Walk

Several years ago, I was watching a Today Show segment about helping your children and teens create healthy habits. The subject of the piece was a notable nutritionist, whose kids were reluctant to eat their greens and work up a sweat. The most memorable quote came from one of her pre-teens who said, “Walking makes me sad.”

I must admit that, if I think about choosing between catching up on watching The Crown or walking, walking would make me sad, too. In fact, if I had to choose between walking and any of my not-so-guilty pleasures — like baking triple-chocolate brownies or shopping for Japanese pancake molds online (they’ll arrive in two days) — I would choose the latter.

But, when I think about the simplest and most strategic thing I am able to do for myself that’s Covid-safe, it’s walking. When I weigh what activity I can do almost every day, with little preparation, minimal effort, no special equipment, and that can contract or expand to fit the exact amount of time I have available, it’s walking. When I consider what I can do for myself even when my back pain is flaring up, it’s walking. When I want to do something that’s good for my mind, body, and soul, it’s walking. When I want someone’s company (physically distanced, of course) — or just want to be alone, walking works.

I walk three miles per day, most days of the week, and I’m not alone in reaping the physiological, mental, and emotional rewards of walking. In his New Yorker article, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” journalist Ferris Jabr writes that when we go for a walk, we perform better on tests of memory and attention; our brain cells build new connections, staving off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age; we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down; and our attention is left to meander and observe, helping us generate new ideas and to have strokes of insight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single bout of moderate-to vigorous activity (including walking) can improve our sleep, thinking, and learning, while reducing symptoms of anxiety.

And doing it outdoors can compound the dividends. According to Dr. Jo Barton, Senior Lecturer of the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences at the University of Essex, you can improve your self-esteem and your mood with just five minutes of exposure to nature. Why does it work so quickly? As Barton shares, exposure to nature helps us switch from voluntary attention, which draws on our reserves of focus and energy, to involuntary attention, which requires less focus and energy. This allows us to recover from mental fatigue.

Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Wordsworth, and Aristotle were all obsessive walkers, using the rhythm of walking to help them generate ideas. And while any form of exercise has been shown to activate the brain, walking is a proven creativity booster as well.

Let me also say this: as simple as walking seems, I know it’s not simple for everyone. Some people have mobility challenges that make walking an ordeal, or even impossible. Others may live in neighborhoods that are unsafe for walking, while others may have experienced trauma that make walking alone or outside feel threatening. Some of us have responsibilities at home that limit our independence, and others may have weather conditions that make exposure uncomfortable or risky. If you fall into one or more of those categories — or a category I have missed — I hope you find something that you use to quiet your anxiety, keep your brain sharp, and maintain physical well-being.

For those of us who can walk, we know that we can walk for exercise and for transportation. And here are five additional ways to walk with purpose:

1. Walk for perspective. These are trying times. The global pandemic has robbed so many of us of so much, and yet, most of us can still find perspective in the struggle. On days when I need some perspective, I’ll stroll while looking at the sun, the trees, or the water. Those views remind me to reflect on the expanse of the universe, to appreciate the beauty of nature, and prompt me to consider how much world there still is for me to explore (when it’s safe to do so).

2. Walk for connection. While you can walk alone, you don’t have to. And these days, walking is one of the safer activities available to us. Before I moved from New York to North Carolina, I had a standing Sunday walk with my neighbor Leslie. And now, despite being almost 600 miles apart, we still have our Sunday morning walks — just over the phone. Invite a friend or family member to join you — in person when it’s doable, safe, and responsible — and over the phone when it isn’t.

3. Walk for learning. As much as I like to clear my mind, I also like to fill it with new and useful information. I might walk while listening to a podcast or an audio book, or even the recording of a webinar I signed up for but wasn’t able to attend. Or I might take some photos with my phone of a tree or an animal I can’t identify (which, as a native Manhattanite, are most trees and animals), and look it up when I get home.

Take 5: How to Build Trust in the Workplace

So how do you build trust in the workplace? Kellogg faculty offer advice for what individuals and companies can do to establish their trustworthiness.

How Leaders Can Build Trust

As Harry Kraemer sees it, trustworthiness is a required trait for leaders. So Kraemer, the former CEO of Baxter International and now a clinical professor of leadership at Kellogg, has thought a lot about what leaders can do to be seen as trustworthy.

In the video below, which is part of The Trust Project at Northwestern, he lays out four ways leaders can establish trust.

One tip: make sure you take the time to understand all sides of a story or issue.

Leaders, he says, “establish trust because they demonstrate they really care about what each person has to say.”

Align Company Values with Actions

Another important step in building trust in the workplace is ensuring that your company aligns its statements with its actions, according to Karen Cates, an adjunct professor of executive education.

For example, if a company says it welcomes new ideas, then its leaders need to be genuinely open to listening to them, Cates says. Even seemingly minor details are important. For instance, imagine a company that claims its greatest asset is its people yet fails to mention employees anywhere on its website. 

“Alignment is critical because it lays the foundation for trust,” Cates says, “and trust leads to greater commitment. If you don’t have alignment, it doesn’t matter how great your benefits are. You still won’t have commitment from your employees.”

And, as research by Kellogg School professor Paola Sapienza finds, there are economic benefits as well: when companies are perceived by their own employees to have cultures of integrity, they show higher profits.

When Picking the Wrong Person for the Job Builds Trust

Sometimes organizations build trust in a counterintuitive way: by picking the wrong person for a job.That’s the conclusion of research from Daniel Barron and Michael Powell, both associate professors of strategy. The idea being that if you have promised to reward excellent work, you need to follow through, even if the person you’re promoting is not the best one for that new job.

But doing this can often be tricky. For example, the costs of assigning the wrong person to a job can be too high. And there are rarely enough rewards to go around. So how do companies navigate this without demotivating employees who feel that the company isn’t following through on its promises?

The researchers’ game theory model suggests that rewarding past excellence is most beneficial when an employee has truly excelled previously, while competing parties have not, and when the costs of favoring the party that has previously excelled are relatively low.

So while it may not be feasible all the time, the research shows that there are some situations where the benefits of rewarding past performance are so strong that they can overcome the benefits of actually giving the job to the right person. “That is where you promote the wrong guy,” Barron says.

One Way to Make It More Difficult to Cheat

Of course, another way to build trust at work is to eliminate opportunities for people to cheat.

There are plenty of ways to do this, of course, but here’s a simple way to get started: understand when people are most likely to engage in dishonest behavior, and arrange assignments accordingly.

According to research from the late J. Keith Murnighan, a professor of management and organizations, people are more likely to cheat when they are near the end of a job or a task. Under these circumstances, the dishonest behavior is motivated by something called “anticipatory regret”—an urge to avoid future feelings of regret at passing up a last opportunity for personal gain.

Murnighan and coauthors demonstrated this in a series of experiments. For example, hundreds of online participants were asked to flip a coin and self-report which side it landed on—with the possibility of winning a small cash reward for landing on one side versus the other.

Emotional Intelligence Is Key to Strong Leadership

The issue: he had terrible back pain and walking helped. But he didn’t want to admit to what he saw as a weakness, and because he was unable to read the room, he didn’t realize the impression he was making.

Booth, also a clinical professor of leadership at the Kellogg School, has had many clients who have had trouble understanding their own emotions or the emotions of others: the HR executive who cried when she got defensive, say, or the VP who was at a loss for how to talk to her team while the company was in turmoil.

“None of these people were showing up in a way they wanted to in their leadership roles,” Booth says.

What they needed to do was improve their emotional intelligence, or EQ. Emotional intelligence is an understanding of your own emotions and the emotions of those around you—as well as how to act on that information.

Booth shared four components that make up EQ—self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relational management—as well as strategies to develop each of these during a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar from Kellogg Insight.

She began by explaining that study after study has demonstrated the importance of EQ for leaders, much more so than technical skills. “You can be the smartest person in the room, but it’s not going to have as strong a correlation to your success as EQ does,” she says.

Self-awareness is “that self check-in,” Booth says, where you take a moment to gauge where your own emotions are in a given moment. This is important because when we are feeling defensive or depleted or otherwise stressed, “our natural tendencies come out,” and sometimes those natural tendencies (becoming argumentative, say, or shutting down) are not our best selves.

Tips for nurturing self-awareness include everything from simply taking a few deep breaths to ground yourself to journaling in order to understand what your triggers are.

Self-management means taking that awareness and then choosing what to do about it. Maybe, if you’re feeling agitated, that means waiting an hour before replying to an important email. Or, if you’re feeling exhausted, go for a walk or do some yoga or call a friend.

And, it’s important to remember that self-management applies to good moods, too. “When you’re feeling upbeat, spread your joy,” Booth says. Send a thank you note to an employee or do a small act of kindness for a stranger. For many people, sharing your own good mood can be rejuvenating. “These are times of extreme stress, so being emotionally recharged is important,” she says.

Social awareness and relationship management follow the same pattern as self-awareness and self-management: first, read the room to understand how people are feeling, then decide how to act based on that information.

Watch the webinar by clicking “Read More”

Ten Tips for Turning Procrastination into Precrastination

(excerpts from Psychology Today)

Are you a procrastinator, pushing things off to a thousand tomorrows?  If you are, wouldn’t you rather be a precrastinator?  Precrastination is a playful new word I propose that literally means “before tomorrow”—in other words, doing things today rather than tomorrow.

You’re probably familiar with the familiar Ben Franklin adage that we shouldn’t put off until tomorrow what we can do today. This maxim still rings true. But why is it so difficult to put Ben’s advice into practice? 

Isn’t it Just Laziness?

The short answer is no, as laziness is not a thing but a description of a pattern of behavior, merely a label we attach to certain behaviors.  If we say that Mary doesn’t get her work in on time because she is lazy, we are merely saying that we have noticed a pattern in her behavior of failing to get her work in on time, and we then use the label to explain her lateness.  Why doesn’t she get her work done on time?  Because she is lazy.  How do we know she’s lazy?  Because she doesn’t get her work done on time.  This is a circular argument, leading us round and round, but explaining nothing.  We need to understand why May doesn’t complete her work when it is due and not confuse a label we apply to her behavior with an explanation. Better yet, we need to help Mary get unstuck so that she can break this self-defeating pattern of behavior.

“But I’m just disorganized “

Getting things done requires organization. We need to organize our time and the materials we need to finish a report, complete a Master’s thesis, prepare a work proposal, and accomplish countless other tasks.  You might think, “I’m just not organized” and let it go at that, using this self-label as a justification for inaction (rationalization, really).  But it can just as easily be a prompt to action, if followed up with a prescription for change, as when you say to yourself, “Yes, I know I struggle with organization.  So what do I need to do to get organized?”  A cluttered desk can serve as cue to action, to sorting things out, putting things in their respective folders and creating a filing system that allows you to find materials needed to organize your work efforts.  For any given task, create a list of the materials and supplies you need to complete it.  Organize them on your desktop and then get to work. 

10 Tips to Get Started with Getting Started

Once you accept yourself as an imperfect human being trying to do your best, and whose efforts sometimes fall short of expectations, you remove a major impediment to getting yourself back on track.  So here are ten tips designed to the prefix “pro” in procrastination to “pre”:

1.       Focus on what you can do TODAY, not on what you didn’t do yesterday.  Don’t become mired in the past.  What’s done is, well, done. Make today count.  

2.       The trick to getting started is. . . getting started.  Establish a regular work routine rather than just waiting around for inspiration to strike. Before getting started, arrange your workspace so it is free of distractions. Leave your phone in another room. Plan to start with small steps, anything to get the ball moving.  Need to draft a report?  Start by organizing your files in desktop folders on your computer. Once you get started, you may find that things begin to fall into place. Once a process starts in motion, it tends to stay in motion. This harkens back to Sir Isaac Newton’s first Law of Motion that a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by some outside force, while a moving object tends to stay in motion (unless it is acted upon by an outside force). If you are that body at rest, start by putting the Newtonian ball in motion by just getting moving. 

3.       Break down larger tasks into more manageable subtasks.  Create a list of subgoals. Accomplish the subgoals and the final goal becomes achievable. Focus on the present subgoal. Don’t worry about subgoals further down the list. 

4.       Start with small, easily accomplished subgoals, and build up from there.

5.       Credit yourself for whatever you accomplish today, however small it may be.  Don’t focus on things you still need to do. Credit yourself for what you did do. Don’t begrudge yourself for what you didn’t do. Just carry over any unfinished tasks to the next day. 

6.       Break down tasks into 15-30-minute morsels.  Don’t bite off more than you can swallow at any one time.

9 Trends That Will Shape Work in 2021 and Beyond

It’s fair to say that 2020 rocked many organizations and business models, upending priorities and plans as business leaders scrambled to navigate a rapidly changing environment. For many organizations this included responding to the social justice movements, shifting to a full-time remote staff, determining how best to support employees’ wellbeing, managing a hybrid workforce, and now addressing legal concerns around the Covid-19 vaccine.

It would be nice to believe that 2021 will be about stability and getting back to normal; however, this year is likely to be another full of major transitions. While there has been a lot of focus on the increase in the number of employees working remotely at least part of the time going forward, there are nine additional forces that I think will shape business in 2021:

1. Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees. The pandemic has given business leaders increased visibility into the personal lives of their employees, who have faced unprecedented personal and professional struggles over the last year.

It’s become clear that supporting employees in their personal lives more effectively enables employees to not only have better lives, but also to perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employers that support employees with their life experience see a 23% increase in the number of employees reporting better mental health and a 17% increase in the number of employees reporting better physical health. There is also a real benefit to employers, who see a 21% increase in the number of high performers compared to organizations that don’t provide the same degree of support to their employees.

That’s why 2021 will be the year where employer support for mental health, financial health, and even things that were previously seen as out of bounds, like sleep, will become the table stakes benefits offered to employees.

2. More companies will adopt stances on current societal and political debates. Employees’ desire to work for organizations whose values align with their own has been growing for some time. In 2020, this desire accelerated: Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more actively involved in the cultural debates of the day. I believe CEOs will have to respond in order to retain and attract the best talent.

However, making statements about the issues of the day is no longer enough: Employees expect more. And CEOs who have spent real resources on these issues have been rewarded with more highly engaged employees. A Gartner survey found that the number of employees who were considered highly engaged increased from 40% to 60% when their organization acted on today’s social issues.

3. The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the office. Many organizations have already adopted a hybrid workforce — or are planning to this year — that enables employees to work from the corporate office, their home, or an alternate third space (coffee shop, co-working space, etc.). In this hybrid scenario, we are hearing from CHROs that the surveys of their own employees are showing that men are more likely to decide to return to their workplace, while women are more likely to continue to work from home.

According to a recent Gartner survey, 64% of managers believe that office workers are higher performers than remote workers, and in turn are likely to give in-office workers a higher raise than those who work from home. However, data that we have collected from both 2019 (pre-pandemic) and 2020 (during the pandemic) shows the opposite: Full-time remote workers are 5% more likely to be high performers than those who work full-time from the office.

So if men are more likely to work from the office, and managers retain a bias towards in-office workers, we should expect to see managers over-rewarding male employees at the expense of female employees, worsening the gender-wage gap at a time when the pandemic has already had a disproportionate impact on women.

4. New regulations will limit employee monitoring. During the pandemic, more than 1 out of 4 companies has purchased new technology, for the first time, to passively track and monitor their employees. However, many of these same companies haven’t determined how to balance employee privacy with the technology, and employees are frustrated. Gartner research found that less than 50% of employees trust their organization with their data, and 44% don’t receive any information regarding the data collected about them. In 2021, we expect a variety of new regulations at the state and local level that will start to put limits on what employers can track about their employees. Given the variability that this will create, companies are likely to adopt the most restrictive standards across their workforce.

5. Flexibility will shift from location to time. While enabling employees to work remotely became commonplace across 2020 (and will continue this year and beyond), the next wave of flexibility will be around when employees are expected to work.

Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey revealed that only 36% of employees were high performers at organizations with a standard 40-hour work week. Organizations that offer employees flexibility over when, where and how much they work, see 55% of their work force as high performers. In 2021, I expect to see a rise of new jobs where employees will be measured by their output, as opposed to an agreed-upon set of hours.

6. Leading companies will make bulk purchases of the Covid vaccine for employees — and will be sued over Covid vaccine requirements. Employers that provide the Covid vaccine to their workforce will leverage this action as a key differentiator to attract and retain talent. In tandem with employers providing the vaccine, several companies will be sued for requiring their employees to have proof of vaccination before allowing them to return to the workplace. The corresponding litigation will slow return-to-workplace efforts even as vaccine usage increases.

When Do We Really Need Face-to-Face Interactions?

The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the adoption of new virtual ways of developing leaders and managing teams. But what will happen as we emerge from the crisis?

While we will likely never go back to our pre-crisis status quo, we imagine the future will be a blended one that leverages the best of what both virtual and face-to-face experiences can offer. While the face-to-face part won’t start happening with any regularity until it is safe and possible to do so, we can be encouraged that this future is on the horizon as newly approved vaccines start to deploy around the world.

Based on our years of research and experience thus far, there are four broad dimensions of impact in management development — collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication — that may prove difficult to achieve and sustain without some face-to-face interactions in the future.

Let’s quickly review these four dimensions:

Collaboration is about building shared understandings, relationships, and trust.

Innovation is about getting creative ideas out of people’s brains, exploring the ways they fit together, and collectively engaging in learning processes to refine and realize them. These require both trust and time together in non-stressed environments.

Acculturation is about creating a robust, shared company culture. This is an essential element of long-term organizational effectiveness as it builds mutual understanding and a sense of shared identity.

Dedication is about having a shared sense of purpose and feeling part of a community.

What fosters collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication beyond placing people in the same place at the same time? We believe the answer is to design an immersive experience that incorporate five “design drivers.”

Purposeful focus. Face-to-face experiences inherently have the potential to generate and sustain focus. When we are physically together, it is more difficult to give in to all kinds of distractions. Group dynamics operate much more effectively to reinforce focus in face-to-face interaction: It is easier for our colleagues to keep us focused and we all keep each other on task.

Let’s imagine your organization is designing a development program to accelerate the integration of an acquisition. To achieve purposeful focus, the organization would bring the key players from the acquiring and acquired companies together in an offsite environment removed from the office (and especially from the corporate headquarters) where they can focus without distraction and without the feeling of being on someone else’s “turf.”

Interpersonal bonding. This is particularly important in creating safe environments for collaboration and innovation. Bonding refers to the creation of emotional connections that lead to trust, support, and openness among participants.

In the acquisition example, the organization could encourage the key players to exchange personal histories and life experiences, in small groups potentially supported by coaches, and to more informally get to know each other.

Deep learning. Conceptual learning means gaining an understanding of ideas, such as empowerment or return on equity. Deep learning means wrestling with those concepts, debating when and how they are useful, and understanding how subtle differences in context influence their application.

Deep learning happens when participants have the time, space, and support to explore the meaning of these concepts for their particular situations and challenges. By “exploration” we mean both the opportunity to honestly share where they are in any specific area and the opportunity to get both feedback — and be challenged — from colleagues in their group. Deep learning then truly makes the concepts come alive in both relevant and context-specific ways.

In the acquisition example, the organization could explore and deepen the understanding of the key benefits the acquisition is supposed to bring in the context of the combined companies.

Unencumbered experimentation. Experimentation in business is often impeded by concerns over turf, resources, advancement, credit, and so on. Immersive face-to-face experiences are necessary to foster the development of personal trust and bonds that allow for experimentation unencumbered by these concerns. The experimentation is done through design thinking and prototyping minimally viable products under strong time pressure and with rounds of quick feedback.

Back to our acquisition example, once a common understanding has been reached, possible scenarios can be created and prototypes of integration plans created.

Structured serendipity. Serendipity, our fifth and final design driver, refers to the effect of stumbling onto something truly wonderful while looking for something entirely unrelated. A well-designed immersive experience consists of a balance of formal and informal elements that create fertile ground for such a moment. This structuring can include elements such as the selection of a diverse set of participants, the pedagogical variety of the program, the opportunities to connect with different colleagues, the choice of locations that foster formal and informal connections, and the spaces that are conducive to reflection and sharing.

The organization trying to speed up an acquisition might try to build in unstructured time, be it dinners, walks, or shared recreational activities. You do this to encourage informal exchanges as they often lead to important creative insights, while at the same time deepening interpersonal connections.

As your organization starts to decide when and how to leverage face-to-face experiences, these concepts may be helpful in determining whether you are in need of the right mix of collaboration, innovation, acculturation, and dedication. Once you are clear on the mix, you can start designing the face-to-face elements that will be of highest value to your team.

Excellent blended management development experiences are essential foundations for both short- and long-term business success. The challenge going forward is to understand the enduring value of focused, face-to-face experiences and then leverage virtual ones to augment and extend them. While that blended future is still quite distant, companies will need to start considering what warrants face-to-face interaction and how to make the most of those precious opportunities.

5 Ways Gig Economy Workers Can Save for Retirement

We are in the midst of a major economic shift. While workers in the past could expect to keep a stable job with a traditional employer for decades, workers of today have found they must either cobble together a career from a variety of gigs, or supplement a lackluster salary from a traditional job by doing freelance work in their spare time.

Though you can make a living (and possibly even a good one) in the gig economy, this kind of work does leave gig workers vulnerable in one very important way: retirement planning.

Without the backing of an employer-sponsored retirement account, many gig workers are not saving enough for their golden years. According to a recent report by Betterment, seven out of 10 full-time gig workers say they are unprepared to maintain their current lifestyle during retirement, while three out of 10 say they don’t regularly set aside any money for retirement.

So what’s a gig worker to do if they don’t want to be driving for Uber and taking TaskRabbit jobs into their 70s and 80s? Here are five things you can do to save for retirement as a member of the gig economy.

1. Take stock of what you have

Many people don’t have a clear idea of how much money they have. And it’s impossible to plan your retirement if you don’t know where you are today. So any retirement savings should start with a look at what you already have in the accounts in your name.

Add up how much is in your checking and savings accounts, any neglected retirement accounts you may have picked up from previous traditional jobs, cash on hand if your gig work relies on cash tips, or any other financial accounts. The sum total could add up to more than you realize if you haven’t recently taken stock of where you are.

Even if you truly have nothing more than pocket lint and a couple quarters to your name, it’s better to know where you are than proceed without a clear picture of your financial reality.

2. Open an IRA

If you don’t already have a retirement account that you can contribute to, then you need to set one up ASAP. You can’t save for retirement if you don’t have an account to put money in.

IRAs are specifically created for individual investors and you can easily get started with one online. If you have money from a 401(k) to roll over, you have more options available to you, as some IRAs have a minimum investment amount (typically $1,000). If you have less than that to open your account, you may want to choose a Roth IRA, since those often have no minimums.

The difference between the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA is how taxes are levied. With a traditional IRA, you can fund the account with pre-tax income. In other words, every dollar you put in an IRA is a dollar you do not have to claim as income. However, you will have to pay ordinary income tax on your IRA distributions once you reach retirement. Roth IRAs are funded with money that has already been taxed, so you can take distributions tax-free in retirement.

Many gig workers choose a Roth IRA because their current tax burden is low. If you anticipate earning more over the course of your career, using a Roth IRA for retirement investments can protect you from the taxman in retirement.

Whether you choose a Roth or a traditional IRA, the contribution limit per year, as of 2018, is $5,500 for workers under 50, and $6,500 for anyone who is 50+.

3. Avoid the bite of investment fees

While no investor wants to lose portfolio growth to fees, it’s especially important for gig workers to choose asset allocations that will minimize investment fees. That’s because gig workers are likely to have less money to invest, so every dollar needs to be working hard for them.

Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?

These are inspiring examples, to be sure—but Dashun Wang didn’t think they told the whole story. Why did these individuals ultimately succeed, when so many others never manage to get past their failing phase?

“If we understand that process, could we anticipate whether you will become a winner, even when you are still a loser?” asks Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, who directs the Center for Science of Science and Innovation (CSSI).

In a new paper published in the 150th anniversary issue of Nature, Wang and colleagues developed a mathematical model to pinpoint what separates those who succeed from those who merely try, try again. Along with PhD student Yian Yin and postdoctoral researcher Yang Wang at CSSI, and James A. Evans of the University of Chicago, Wang found that success comes down to learning from one’s prior mistakes—for instance, continuing to improve the parts of an invention that aren’t working rather than scrapping them, or recognizing which sections of a denied application to keep and which to rewrite.

But it’s not simply that those who learn more as they go have better odds of victory. Rather, there’s a critical tipping point. If your ability to build on your earlier attempts is above a certain threshold, you’ll likely succeed in the end. But if it’s even a hair below that threshold, you may be doomed to keep churning out failure after failure forever.

“People on those two sides of the threshold, they could be exactly the same kind of people,” says Wang, “but they will have two very different outcomes.”

Using this insight, the researchers are able to successfully predict an individual’s long-term success with just a small amount of information about that person’s initial attempts.

Measuring Success in Three Different Domains

A growing body of research supports the idea that failure can make you better off in the long run. Indeed, in another recent study, Wang himself found that an early career setback often set up scientists for later success.

However, as the stories of Ford, Edison, and Rowling plainly demonstrate, the road to success typically involves more than a single setback. “You don’t just fail once,” Wang says. “You fail over and over.” And while that litany of failures may make the Edisons of the world better off, it seems to thwart many other people.

To understand why, Wang and his colleagues needed a lot of information about the process of falling, getting back up, and trying again.

They turned to three massive data sets, each containing information about very distinct types of failure and success: 776,721 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) between 1985 and 2015; the National Venture Capital Association’s database of all 58,111 startups to receive venture-capital funding from 1970 to 2016; and the Global Terrorism Database, which includes 170,350 attacks between 1970 and 2016.

These sources allowed the researchers to track groups and individuals as they made repeated attempts over time to achieve a goal: obtain grant funding, lead their company to get acquired at high values or achieve an IPO, or, in the case of terrorist organizations, execute an attack with at least one fatality—a grim measure of success, to be sure.

The three domains “can’t be more different,” Wang says, “but as different as they seem, what’s interesting is that they all turn out to show very similar, predictable patterns.”

What Makes You Successful: Luck or Learning?

With data in hand, the team began thinking about success and failure at the simplest level. Success, they theorized, must be the result of one of two basic phenomena: luck or learning. People who become successful in a given area are either improving steadily over time, or they are the beneficiaries of chance. So the researchers tested both theories.

If wins are primarily the result of chance, the team figured, all attempts are equally likely to succeed or fail—just like a coin toss, where what happened before doesn’t much influence what happens next. That means the typical person’s hundredth attempt won’t be any more successful than their first, since individuals are not systematically improving.

So the researchers looked at the first attempt and the penultimate attempt (the one right before a win) for each aspiring scientist, entrepreneur, and terrorist in their dataset. To measure improvement (or lack thereof) over time, the researchers looked at changes in how the scientists’ grant applications were rated, the amount of venture funding the startups received, and the number of individuals wounded in terrorists’ attacks.

Analysis revealed that the chance theory doesn’t hold up. In all three datasets, an individual’s second-to-last attempt did tend have a higher probability of success than their very first effort.

Yet people weren’t learning in the way the researchers had expected. The classic idea of the learning curve says that the more you do something, the higher your proficiency gets. So if everyone in the dataset was reliably learning from their prior failures, their odds of success should increase dramatically with each new attempt, leading to short-lived failure streaks before success.

But the data revealed much longer streaks than the researchers anticipated.

“Although your performance improves over time, you still fail more than we would expect you to,” Wang explains. “That suggests that you are stuck somewhere—that you are trying but not making progress.”

In other words, neither of the two theories could account for the dynamics underlying repeated failures. So the researchers decided to build a model that accounted for that.

A Surefire Predictor of Success

This model assumes that every attempt has several components—like the introduction and budget sections of a grant proposal, for instance, or the location and tactics used in a terrorist attack. Importantly, even if an attempt fails overall, some of its components may still have been good. When mounting a new attempt, an individual has to choose, for each component, whether to go back to the drawing board or to improve upon a version from a prior (failed) attempt.

Connecting Employees Through Holiday Parties, 2020-Style

For many business owners, employees are often more like members of their own extended families. They celebrate important milestones together — both business and personal — and support each other during difficult times. For many, 2020 has exemplified “difficult times,” which makes it that much more important for work families to find a way to celebrate this holiday season together.

It seems obvious that the traditional festive get-togethers and social activities, including the annual office holiday party, will either be canceled or modified in some way this year. In a virtual world, replicating the mingling and breakaway conversations that happen in the physical world is a bit more challenging. Because employees who are more connected to each other tend to be happier and more productive, it’s business-critical that companies find creative ways to facilitate those interactions as part of a holiday celebration.

In the absence of the usual parties, there are virtual ways to celebrate that can feel both natural and festive, all while using the same tools we use for work. With a little creativity, it’s possible to take those same tools we use to work and turn them into a memorable event for a year that many would rather forget. Consider one of these ideas or your own variation of them.

Tip 1: Take the opportunity to be inclusive

The classic office holiday party can create a lot of pressure. This year, there’s an opportunity to remove some of those pressures. Rather than having just a single event, try hosting smaller video chats and other activities with particular themes. Consider a virtual holiday cookie-baking class and, as an added bonus, send the ingredients and some fun cooking accessories to employees’ homes. Take advantage of “bowl season” and host viewing parties for sporting events. Consider a holiday movie night with a dress-up theme, and send some fun gifts from the company. And don’t forget to include the family — perhaps host a virtual happy hour with employees and their significant others, or fo something that includes the kids, such as a virtual storytelling or puppet show event. The trick with these types of activities is to keep them on the smaller side so that it’s easy to socialize and focus on all types of interests.

Tip 2: Remember what we’ve learned about remote work

High-quality video and voice is essential. If the quality of your meeting is poor, it will be difficult to have fun.  We know how frustrating it is to keep saying “can you hear me now?” For holiday celebrations, encourage some fun and novelty events so it doesn’t just feel like another conference call or team check-in. Lean into the visual aspect by hosting an ugly sweater contest, asking employees to provide a video tour of their home holiday decorations or share family recipes and traditions. Try branching out beyond video to share holiday family photos on a messaging channel separate from usual workstreams. Integrate multiple channels like video and messaging to host larger events, such as company-wide trivia contests that still let you break out into smaller groups (or teams, if you’re playing a game) to allow a more natural conversation. Finally, to keep participants engaged, remember to keep structured events short and interactive.

Tip 3: Recognize that it’s still 2020

We’ve all gone through a lot this year, and it would be remiss of organizers not to recognize the challenges teams have overcome while also providing a fun experience. Dedicate some time or a specific event to calling out the great work each employee has done. Reflect on the challenges of the past few months and how the organization plans to move forward to meet the opportunities of the new year. Create separate spaces, whether messaging channels, calls or other types of events, where team members can have informal conversations. Although we use our team messaging feature extensively for business at RingCentral, we also host several channels that are meant for employees to connect on a personal level, including one focused on recipes and another where employees share cute dog photos.  Those little moments of connection are helping us keep our personal relationships strong even as we’re working apart.

Some employees might not be interested or able to take part in virtual celebrations altogether, and that’s OK. Give each person the flexibility to join in activities that genuinely interest them. Use the budget usually reserved for catering or in-person parties to give employees a stipend for food, drinks or other items they might need for an activity. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way to help people feel connected to each other.

The holidays are an opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve traveled, give back to employees and bring our work family closer together. This year is no different. Use technology as a tool for inclusivity and draw from your own experiences of virtual events that have worked well in the past. Most of all, give employees options to celebrate in ways that speak to them and allow team members to learn a little bit more about each other. Doing so can leave a positive, lasting impact on your company’s culture moving into the new year.

5 Tips to Become a More Effective Manager

That’s the advice from Carter Cast, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School. “We talk about inspirational leadership and brave leadership, and I’m all for it,” he says. “But the power and strength of good management doesn’t always get enough attention.” 

After all, strong managers coax high productivity out of their teams; they also free the executive team from much of the day-to-day operations so they can focus on more tactical issues.

“Within a company, leaders create a vision, and managers create goals and lead their group toward common objectives related to that vision,” Cast says. “You can make a strong case that the real pulse of a company is its management layer.” 

So what does it take to become a strong manager? Cast offers five tips.

Communicate Clearly

As the lynchpin and catalyst between the company’s senior leadership and its frontline workers, the manager must be able to communicate directions, expectations, and the company leadership’s position. Managers need to be clear about what they are asking people to do and why.

First and foremost, managers need to help their team members envision what success looks like for their group. Cast says, “If I were to ask a manager’s various team members to name 1) their department’s top two objectives for the quarter and 2) the metrics by which they are measuring those objectives’ success, would they all say the same thing to me? If the answers I’d get back are different, then that manager isn’t communicating their priorities clearly.

“You need to know that your team members are all aligned on what’s critical to accomplish for the good of the team,” Cast says. 

As for communicating with individual team members, Cast sees this as an essential part of coaching and development and suggests organizing each one-on-one meeting into three parts: performance indicators, progress on initiatives, and people. 

So, in an hour-long meeting, the first 20 minutes might include a review of the performance dashboard agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter or year. The second 20 minutes would be a conversation about progress on key initiatives, focusing on resource needs and any barriers the manager may need to help lower in order to complete the initiative on time. The final 20 minutes would then be dedicated to personnel moves, opportunities, and issues, including the team member’s own career development.

Cast suggests that managers ask direct reports to come prepared to each meeting with a one-page summary of updates from these discussion topics. “I always write all over that piece of paper in the meetings as we talk,” he says. “Then, I later I pull those sheets out when I am working on performance reviews. They are a good way to remind myself of what was accomplished over the course of the year. I’m able to see things that they did really well, as well as things they weren’t able to accomplish.”

Take Ownership of the Process 

As the people responsible for goal setting within the organization, managers should always be thinking about how they will measure success—and how they will hold their teams accountable for those metrics and timelines. This requires collaboration between the manager and the team members on identifying the best route to those goals. 

“Average managers think their job is to stay in their lane and facilitate the execution of initiatives. Great managers do that, but they also scratch their heads and say, ‘Is there a better way to do this? I’m going to look into that,’” Cast says. 

For a manager, simply stating that sales goal isn’t going to help you or your team reach it. Holding people accountable starts with outlining all the steps you will take to get there, including clearly defining both the critical “leading” and “lagging” measures of that goal. Cast notes that while both types of measures are important, leading measures tend to be more actionable. 

“If a team’s goal is $50 million in sales, a lagging measure of that goal might be the number of new customers you acquired that quarter,” Cast says. “A leading measure would be anything that impacts that customer acquisition, for instance, the number of software demos that each sales person executes. Then the whole team can be accountable by, say, working to run five demos per salesperson per week.”

Get Involved and Add Value

Of course, strong managers are not simply process facilitators. Most have technical expertise within the area their team is operating. So to get the most out of their teams, they have to know when to get directly involved. This might mean stepping in at a time when the team is struggling, or taking the lead on an important initiative related to their personal area of expertise. 

“Great managers roll up their sleeves and work alongside the team when necessary,” Cast says. “The more you understand your team’s work, the better you’ll be at analyzing and improving it. And the best way to understand it is by diving in and doing it.”

When he was the president of a division of Walmart, Cast arrived early to a national meeting of store managers. Employees were busy setting up displays in a full-scale store that was being assembled inside the Kansas City convention center. When he walked through the simulated Walmart store, he noticed that the merchandising team had fallen behind in assembling a set of display racks for new products.

“The more you understand your team’s work, the better you’ll be at analyzing and improving it. And the best way to understand it is by diving in and doing it.”

— Carter Cast

4 Tips for Navigating the Newly Crowded Gig Economy

In the wake of the coronavirus, unemployment in the U.S. has surged and gig workers haven’t been spared. According to a recent survey, some 89 percent1 of gig workers and self-employed are now looking for a new source of income. For many, demand for their service diminished. For others, the competition heated up because there have been so many more people looking for work.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of people searching for remote and flexible jobs during the COVID-19 crisis,” says Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based FlexJobs2, a premium job search service that helps professionals find flexible work, such as part-time and full-time remote work and freelance options.

But there is good news: In recent weeks, Sutton has seen a “steady increase” in month-over-month remote job listings posted to FlexJobs. “If history is any indicator, there’s a good possibility that remote freelance jobs will continue to increase just like we saw in the last recession,” she says. “The current economic conditions are uncertain, and companies often turn to freelancers when it’s not possible for them to take on a full-time or part-time employee due to that uncertainty.”

Sutton says the fields that are particularly strong right now in hiring for freelance work include computer and IT, software development, education and training, bilingual, accounting and finance, writing, medical and health, customer service, and project management.”

Opportunity is out there—if you know how to stand out from the swelling competition. Read on for smart tips about successfully navigating the newly crowded gig economy and having a sustainable future as a full-time freelancer or solopreneur—especially with services like VSP Individual Vision Plans on your side.

1. Highlight your previous remote work and education.

When you’re applying for a remote job—whether it be a freelance project, an ongoing gig, etc.—you’ll want to make sure to mention your previous remote work or learning experience throughout your resume and on your LinkedIn profile to help “make you stand out from a big crowd of people who are seeking remote work without that experience right now,” Sutton says.

The same goes for solopreneurs with their own brands, except you’ll want to make sure this information is detailed on your website and social media pages like Facebook and Google business listing.

This information can include partial and fully remote work, earning any certificates or degrees online, and time you’ve spent collaborating and communicating with people across time zones using email, phone, web conferencing, and other remote tools, Sutton says.

2. Detail your communication abilities when talking with potential clients. 

A lot of companies and clients are new to remote work and hiring. As such, many appreciate people who are outstanding communicators both in writing and verbally, Sutton says. “Mention your communication skills and the tools you use to stay in touch in your applications, portfolios, online profiles, and in discussions with potential employers.”

Part of this is reaching out in the first place. With the competition for work as high as it is, you can’t afford to be hesitant about contacting old contacts. “Reach out to previous clients to let them know you’re available and, if applicable, bring them up to speed on some of the projects you’ve worked on so they know what you’re currently capable of,” Sutton says. Take it a step further and start making new contacts as well—online and even in-person when possible, given social distancing measures. The more people who know you’re for hire, the better.

3. Research and vet the sites you use to find freelance and remote jobs.

There are a huge variety of sources for freelance jobs so it’s important to research those sources and evaluate them for your own needs. “Are there several websites, clients, recruiting agencies, and other sources that you’ve used reliably, or that fellow freelancers highly recommend,” Sutton says. “Concentrate your efforts on those sources to maximize your chances for success.” 

You Need a Personal Highlight Reel

But positive events can lead to post-traumatic growth, too: landing a new job, having a new baby, or falling in love. And, according to research, the jolts we feel from these positive disruptive events can energize us, boost our self-esteem, deepen our relationship with others, and enhance the meaning of our lives.

Over the years, through my academic research and consulting, I’ve developed a process for achieving personal growth through positive trauma called the Positive Method. Building on a well-established technique called Reflected Best-Self Exercise, my process is akin to listening to your friends, co-workers, and family eulogize you. No, this doesn’t involve faking your own death. But the process will probably make you feel vulnerable, squeamish, and uncomfortable. The task involves reaching out to people who mean the most to you of times, sharing anecdotes of when they made an impact, and asking them to share memories of you being the best version of yourself. You end up with a personal highlight reel: a set of memories of you at your very best.

If this makes you nervous, you’re not alone. In my structured interviews of people who completed the Positive Method, more than half of the people I spoke with, from Seoul and Sydney to New Jersey, spontaneously mentioned the cultural resistance to focusing on people’s unique strengths. Why? Over the years, I’ve become convinced that our allergic reaction is because we’re afraid that if we focus on people’s positive contributions, we’ll make them arrogant. I can tell you, this fear is misplaced when it comes to the Positive Method. In fact, the opposite is true. People feel inspired and energized to use their strengths even more, and give more to others, after reading their highlights.

Ironically, what makes the Positive Method so effective is how uncomfortable it is. Because it questions our basic assumptions, it can shift your controls from autopilot to manual. Often, we don’t notice how our negative assumptions and negative self-talk become our default setting. This can make life seem like a daily struggle. We spiral downward and find ourselves in ruts that hold us back from our potential. But by building a personal highlight reel, it’s possible to jolt yourself into a more positive cycle and create real personal change. Once you can see how others perceive you when you make your best impact, you’ll be more likely to maximize and build upon the unique strengths that make you exceptional.

The process, which I detail in my book Exceptional, is also adaptable to your needs. You can make this your own personal project or a team activity, or, if you’re a boss, you can choose to send notes of appreciation to your direct reports. Here’s the full process:

Give before you receive. Before you ask for feedback, send your notes of appreciation and gratitude to people in your life: parents, colleagues, bosses, kids, friends, siblings. This will begin a virtuous cycle of gratitude. Block off 15 minutes to brainstorm about each person’s unique strengths. Pretend you are going to speak at his or her eulogy, and jot down what makes this person so special to you. Dredge your memories for a few specific times that this person was using his or her character traits to make a great impact.

As you craft your notes, remember that human brains are built for stories — not facts and over-generalizations. So, rather than simply offering praise (“You’re so smart” or “You’re great with kids”), write a story about specific event that was impactful to you. Adding personal touches will help others relive those memories.

When I started at this job, as a recent college grad with little experience, I really appreciated everything you did for me. You were right by my side, giving me great projects, calming my nerves before my presentation to Melinda, putting up with my pesky questions about Excel, and introducing me to the homemade potato chips from Jules’s. 

From there, I would detail how the person affected you, and how their strengths — in the above case, the person’s kindness and mentorship — was meaningful to you.

Next, when you’re ready to send your notes stories out, write something like this:

Based on an article I read, I’ve been thinking about ways I can improve my relationships. I don’t know if you know this, but you are an important person in my life. I want to share some memories with you about when I’ve seen you at your best. Then, if you are willing, I’d love to learn about a few times when you saw me making my best impact. 

I can remember a time when… [add your story]

Don’t send out all the notes at once. You’ll feel more positive emotions if you spread your writing out across two weeks. Once you get started you may find you want to write more than one story for some people.

Don’t undervalue the impact of showing gratitude. The evidence suggests that people will love hearing your memories, and will want to give back. That’s how the emotion of gratitude creates upward spirals, and it’s why you’ll become closer to the people you reached out to after this exercise.

Embrace Your Emotions — Then Get to Work. As people send you their memories, save them up and read them all in one sitting to maximize their impact. Reliving those memories, especially if they span decades, can be a truly emotional experience.

Jolts of positive trauma emerged in many of my interviews with people who had constructed their personal highlight reels. Take 48-year-old Louise, a high-powered partner in a global consulting firm in Chicago. It is not easy to earn partnership as a woman in a masculine business environment, and Louise is not often prone to sentimentality. However, after reading her highlight reel, Louise told me:

I think I was more emotional than happy. Happy is not the right word. Touched. Yes, really touched. Moved. I think, rationally, I kind of knew everything they wrote. But the fact that they tell you with their own words, what they’ve seen, and how great you are, is very touching.

Throughout the interviews I conducted, what I heard again and again, across diverse age groups and national cultures, was a sense of positive trauma. People regularly use words like “intensity,” “surprised,” “amazed,” “stunned,” “touched,” and “wonder.”

How to Move Your Business Online Quickly

Truthfully, even if your physical location is thriving, there’s no reason to shy away from starting an online revenue stream. It’s nowhere near as intimidating, difficult or time-consuming as you may think. Plus, there’s no better way to exponentially increase your income and impact than by offering online services. 

In fact, these days, a strong online presence is imperative. Did you know that online sales increased by nearly 50 percent earlier this year? That means even people who haven’t been accustomed to shopping online are now getting very comfortable with it. And with the fate of millions of small businesses in question, why not take matters into your own hands? 

Here are a few of the fastest and easiest ways to start making money online — today.

1. Offer live workshops

Free, live workshops are the bread and butter of digital marketing. If you’ve never done one before, they can seem intimidating. But think of the opportunity here — you can reach thousands of people with one single presentation. 

These workshops are often referred to as master classes. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need any sort of fancy tech to make them happen. My last master class hosted over 52,000 women and used only Facebook Live to pull it off. The bottom line: If you have a Facebook account, you can start marketing your business online.

The key here is to show off your knowledge and expertise without giving everything away. When your clients see how much you have to offer for free, they can’t help but wonder what else you have up your sleeve. 

At the end of the master class, have a killer pitch prepared. Direct your attendees to your signature course, program or membership.

2. Create a membership

Imagine a place where you gather your clients in one place, but it’s completely online. You provide resources, access to a few other experts and educational content — and clients pay you each month to be a part of this group. These kinds of groups aren’t difficult to create, either. You can have your membership site up and running with a few clicks of a mouse.

This is where online marketing starts to build up predictable, scalable revenue. Which is what we all want, right? Memberships are amazing, because you’re always working on a one-to-many framework. Gone are the days of seeing clients one-on-one and repeating yourself over and over. You can help so many more people at once, and it’s incredibly rewarding to see the people in your membership thrive and create relationships within the community. 

To Succeed in a Negotiation, Help Your Counterpart Save Face

What do a human rights negotiation in Afghanistan, a crisis negotiation in Calgary, and a business dispute between a Brazilian and a Frenchman have in common?  At first blush, nothing.  However, when we dig deeper into these high-stakes negotiations, there is a common thread that connects them all.  The concept of face.

What exactly is face?  In their classic work on politeness, Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson define face as “the public self-image that every member of a society wants to claim for himself/herself.” Put differently, face is how people want to be perceived and connected to identity and dignity.  When it comes to negotiation, it is about both sides preserving their and their organizations’ reputations.

To understand the critical nature of face to negotiation success, consider the three cases I just mentioned, which I feature in my new book.

Afghanistan – Freeing Hostages

In 2002, Karen was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a senior protections officer in the Western province of Herat. One day, as she was conducting a training in a nearby village and on a lunch break, someone from the kitchen at the Foreign Ministry satellite office slipped her a handwritten note on a crumpled piece of paper. It claimed that 20 to 25 Iranian girls and women were being held hostage in a nearby village.

Based on this lead, Karen and her team began investigating. They tracked down the informant, who explained that he knew about this situation because he’d been giving these women food. He’d been reluctant to talk for fear of retribution (which would have been imprisonment or death) but felt he had to risk it.

Karen and her team wanted to bring this matter to the attention of the Foreign Ministry, but it seemed as if people in it might be involved. An advocacy-oriented approach — that is, publicly calling attention to the issue and applying pressure from the outside — would have caused a loss of face for local officials and hopes for a deal would be lost.

Instead Karen and her team approached their contacts privately, noting that, because this situation had been brought to their attention, they had a duty to explore it. The Foreign Ministry granted them permission to visit the women. After many meetings and other negotiations, the women were freed — some transferred to a safe house in Kabul while others returned to their homes in Iran. It turns out that the Foreign Ministry recognized they had a problem on their hands and the UNHCR team was providing them with a face-saving way out.

Calgary – A Crisis Negotiation

A number of years ago, a crisis negotiator named Gary received a call in the evening.  It was a police dispatcher, who explained that a man of indigenous origin (native Canadian) in his mid-30 and high on methamphetamine was threatening suicide. His wife, who was also an addict, had checked herself into a rehabilitation clinic to get clean, but the man had refused to join her, and now, amped up on drugs, he was upset. He’d driven to the clinic with a rope, found the big tree that his wife had mentioned was right outside her window, and intended to hang himself.  A passerby had seen him; worried, they called 911.

When Gary arrived on the scene, the man was sitting up in the branches. “Hey friend, what is it going to take to get you out of this tree?” he asked. “The only way I will come down is in a body bag” was the terse reply.

An hour or two of small talk later, Gary tried again: “What is it going to take to get you out of this tree?” The man thought for a minute. “If you can guess my native Canadian name I will come down.”

That was the breakthrough Gary needed. He asked for a few minutes to think it over, stepped back to his car, and quietly got the dispatcher on the phone. “Call his wife’s room and find out his native Canadian name,” he directed. A few minutes later, a message came back.

Gary returned to the tree and said, “I think your name is Running Buffalo.” Immediately, the man threw the noose from his neck and scampered down. Gary took him to the ambulance on scene and, as he warmed up, asked why he’d insisted on the name-guessing game. “Well,” the man said, “I really wanted to come down, but I felt if I did you would win, and I would lose. I wanted to put you through a hoop so that I could be on par with you.” This was the face-saving way out.

Brazil and France – A Business Tug-of-War

Two international executives, one Brazilian, the other French, had become embroiled in a high-stakes dispute over a company in which they were both involved.  Both men were spending many millions of dollars to try to beat the other in a tense and destructive negotiation, and neither would back down.  Enter an advisor, William. After much digging and exploration, he found that, beyond the money and control, each man also wanted freedom and respect. Each wanted to go back to his normal life of doing business and spending time with family and come out of the fight with his head held high.

William advised them both to focus on maximizing those metrics as their benchmark for success.  When they did so, an agreement emerged where one man agreed to leave the board of the company, giving his counterpart the ability to run it as he saw fit. In return, he released the departing executive from a three-year non-compete clause, giving him the freedom to conduct other business, and exchanged his voting shares for non-voting shares so they could be sold in the public equity market. In the end, both men were able to stand in front of their fellow executives and employees, share that they had a deal, and wish each other well.

These cases point to four ways to help you and your negotiating partners preserve or save face:

  1. Recognize the critical role face plays in all negotiations.
  2. Ask yourself if the solution being proposed will cause a loss of face for any party. If so, that has to be addressed, or the answer to any proposal will be no.
  3. Map out all the players involved in the negotiation, and recognize that saving face will be even more important if a negotiator has to take a solution back to certain constituents.
  4. When a hidden problem arises in negotiation – one that is hard to grasp or does not seem to make logical sense — think about face as the source.

As in many negotiations, what is visible is important. But what is invisible — and connected to face — may be the key to success.

4 Strengths of Family-Friendly Work Cultures

As Covid-19 grew into a pandemic, Michael Schaffer, a father of three in a dual-working household, worried a lot: about his parents in Delaware; about his highly creative, curious, and social kids, who’d had to switch to remote learning; and even about his dog, who was now sharing the home with everyone 24/7. But what Mike did not worry about was his role at Edelman, where he was Senior Vice President, Digital + Corporate. While friends, family, and colleagues all around him had to suddenly adjust to remote work, he’d already been doing it for close to 18 months. That’s how long it had been since he and his family had moved from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles for his wife’s career. Edelman was committed to supporting the shifting needs of its employees and their families, even if they had to relocate, and to that end the company had put in place a set of technologies, protocols, tools designed to help enable remote work — which had made it possible for Mike to move to Los Angeles with his family but still stay on the DC team that he loved. He felt lucky.

The It’s Working Project, where I make sense of the challenging and ever-evolving intersection between work and caregiving, has interviewed employees and HR departments about how their workplace dynamics are shifting during Covid. It’s important that workplaces get this right, because although one-third of the US workforce is considered essential and has been on the job through the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the rest of American workers have shifted to remote work, some of them probably permanently. It’s been a bumpy experience for many employers and workers, especially parents, but in recent conversations with Mike and others I’ve noticed a compelling pattern: The workplaces that are thriving today are those that had already invested in family-centric policies and are building on what they’d learned.

As late as February, when companies committed themselves to family-friendly benefits by offering flexible work days, back-up-care reimbursement, and remote working options, and by prohibiting end-of-day meetings, they typically did so in the name of recruitment, retention, and brand culture. But no longer. Some of these programs grew out of the economic realities of a formerly low unemployment rate, they’ve left organizations well positioned for the quickly shifting workplace dynamics of Covid-19. To understand how — and why — I’ve begun collecting the stories of workers.

Let’s consider a few here.

Emma Patti Harris, Education Week 
Employees at Education Week, a U.S. news organization covering K-12 education, have worked flex-schedules for a long time. Among those employees is Emma Patti Harris, a deputy managing editor who often works from home while caring for a toddler son. When I talked to Emma about her arrangement, she praised the culture of flexibility and support at Education Week, and she told me that the company had provided her and other employees with the right tools and technology to make their individualized schedules work. The arrangement, Emma said, allowed her to find a work-life fit that encouraged her to focus on all she valued and embraced, and she felt grateful that the company listened so carefully to what its employees needed to make their caregiving and work lives intersect.

When Covid-19 hit, the entire team at Education Week made a smooth transition to remote work. Live, on-line documents allowed colleagues to share calendars and identify deadlines, and Slack helped to manage active communications. But that didn’t mean Education Week’s work was done. Leadership went back to the listening skills that they had used to set up remote-work opportunities so long ago and asked what employees needed to make it through this crisis. This took the form of a robust survey, whose results indicated that employees needed better work stations at home. So employees were provided a stipend for equipment and supplies.

The company also worked to ensure that employees remained connected once they were working from home. It lifted old restraints and restrictions, and the result was that employees were able to do work during the pandemic that far exceeded expectations.

Kate Judge, Spoken Layer 
Kate Judge, a mother of two who is the director of brand partnerships at Spoken Layer, told me that before the pandemic, a big part of her personal identity and her enjoyment at work  came from her relationships with her co-workers, and from just spending time in the city and commuting to and from work. Life got complicated for Kate in the early months of 2020, however, when she fell ill with pneumonia, had to help her mother undergo a hip replacement, and had to manage at home while her husband commuted twice monthly to New Haven, where he had just started in a senior-executive MBA program at Yale. Soon, because of the pandemic, she also had to pull her kids from day-care. Normally, her mother would have helped her at home with the kids, but she was at high-risk for Covid and so couldn’t.

One of Spoken Layer’s great strengths, Kate told me, was its workplace community. And so she was not surprised when, early in the pandemic, after the company’s CEO, Andy Lipset, had sent workers home and permanently closed its New York headquarters, he had the company offer employees a generous allowance for home offices that included desks, room decorations, and even snacks — really anything to make the experience of working from home more positive. When that happened, Kate said, “I had a feeling of security. There was clear communication and understanding that no one really knew what would happen next, but Andy was not going to create any uncomfortable situations, and I felt grateful.”

During this trying period, Spoken Layer worked in myriad ways to maintain camaraderie and connection. The company provided lunch-and-learn programming, for example, and even by organized Starch Madness, in which employees bracketed out the best way to serve a potato. Such offerings were always optional and respectful of time; often the point was simply to give employees ways to laugh things out. Such efforts—rooted in the company’s long history of attending to the needs of employees as they move through parenthood, caregiving, and other demanding moments at the intersection of life and work—led to a very smooth and effective transition.

They know how to listen to what employees need. In my experience, the companies that create supportive cultures for working parents and caregivers do so by first listening to what their employees need. Those that bypass this step risk missing important nuances of employees’ lives. For example, many parents find it difficult and stressful to attend late afternoon meetings. Putting a moratorium on these meetings is a win-win. It doesn’t cost the company anything and caregivers feel supported. What I’ve observed recently is that companies that were good at listening in this way before Covid, have been able to continue listening through the pandemic, which positions them to respond rapidly to their employees shifting needs, as happened for Emma at Education Week, and Kate at Spoken Layer.

They know how to create community. The “water-cooler culture” that emerges naturally in an office—in the form of hallway conversations, quick catch-ups over tea, shared birthday celebrations, and more—contributes greatly to the feeling of community in the workplace. But the pandemic has made many of these things a distant memory. The companies that are adapting most successfully are those that recognize and acknowledge the role that such modes of connection play in a caregiving culture, and that therefore work to provide employees with new ways of connecting remotely, as with the lunch-and-learn program at Spoken Layer and the socializing via Zoom that Edelman encourages its employees to do.

They respect the many roles that employees fill. Organizations that had already committed to cultivating a community of respect for working family members were the ones best prepared for real-time Covid shifts. That’s become clear in the interviews I’ve done for the It’s Working Project, which have revealed successful approaches not only to childcare but also to caring for sick spouses and the elderly, where needs can often arise suddenly and unexpectedly. Companies that have experience helping employees cope with the many jobs they’re called upon to do, at work and at home, have tended to be those that have best supported their employees during the dramatic changes that have taken place during the past six months. The team at Education Week showed Emma that they respected her working parenthood when they welcomed her son on their Zoom calls. This respect for the life of a working parent during a pandemic– at home with kids requiring energy and focus with no obvious end in sight– was a powerful gift.

They know how to trust their employees and colleagues. The It’s Working Project has long supported the private sector in building and maintaining a sincere, transparent caregiving culture by championing parental leave policies with a gradual, multi-month return, in lieu of the typical expectation of returning to work at the end of 12 weeks. The same is true of parental caregiving, where often the role of managing an adult parent after a fall or a stroke is suddenly thrust upon an employee. In working on these policies, we’ve learned that the key building block to making this type of leave work is trust. Uncertainty abounds during this pandemic, but one thing has emerged clearly during my interviews: Employees who feel that their managers trust them to get things done — in whatever way they can, given the demands they’re coping with at home — are those who report the highest levels of job satisfaction.

Four lessons in life and business with one of the world’s savviest marketers

Savvy entrepreneurs are familiar with Gary Vaynerchuk books like #AskGaryVeeCrush It and Crushing It. Those in the social media world know Gary Vaynerchuk as a brilliant marketer and entrepreneur. I had the opportunity to see Vaynerchuk speak before he was a social media phenomenon with eight million Instagram followers, and the lessons he taught that day are ones I still reference today.  

It was 2007, and I was one of a group of 300 entrepreneurs who saw Vaynerchuk at his very first public speaking appearance. We had heard of this crazy Russian with the funny name, but none of us knew what to expect. I remember sitting there listening to Vaynerchuk speak and thinking, “This guy is amazing – but I have no idea what he’s talking about.” 

Social media was still a burgeoning industry in 2007, and frankly, pretty much his entire talk went right over my head. So he finishes with his speech (no notes or PowerPoint, of course) and then says to the audience: “Any questions?”

I looked around the room, and there was an awkward silence. No one raised their hand. So I slowly put my hand up. Vaynerchuk calls on me. I gulp.

I said, “Well Gary, everything you just said was brilliant. But I have no idea what you just said.”

The audience burst into spontaneous laughter and applause. I think a lot of other people were thinking what I was thinking and were glad I spoke up. Vaynerchuk’s response is just one of the brilliant lessons he’s taught me in the decade-plus since then. 

Give away your content for free

When I asked the question, Vaynerchuk didn’t miss a beat. He says to me: “What do you do?”

I said, “I’m a business coach. I help entrepreneurs grow their business and have more financial freedom and time freedom.”

He says, “Perfect! Do you sell books, online courses and coaching programs?”

I said yes.

He says, “Great! Now I want you to start giving away all that stuff for free.”

I sat there, dumbfounded. Remember, this was back in 2007. Today, everyone gives away content to bring attention to their brands and companies. But back then, it seemed like a new concept, at least the way he was saying it. 

Long story short: I followed Vaynerchuk’s advice. (My momma didn’t raise no dummy.) I started giving away my content on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, in videos, on my blog and on podcasts. Following his advice has become one of the cornerstones of my customer acquisition model, arguably the most important one.

Put family first

Soon after that first life-changing meeting with Vaynerchuk, I had a second opportunity to spend time with him — this time, when I hosted him in my car. Vaynerchuk was about to go on his very first book tour, so I called his office, asked for his assistant and told them: “Hey, I’m a huge Gary Vee fan, and I’d love to host him while he’s here in Ohio.”

His assistant said, “Great! We were actually looking for somebody to do that.”

“I’m your man!” I said.

I remember how focused and driven Vaynerchuk was, but the thing that stood out to me the most was how he put family first. Vaynerchuk would take phone call after phone call — with CEOs, celebrities, his staff. Because he was in my car, I couldn’t help hearing his end of the conversation. During many of these important phone calls, he’d say this: “Sorry man, I gotta call you back. My wife’s calling.” Then he would click over to speak with his wife, and without the slightest hint of irritation, he’d say: “Hi honey, what’s up?”

Vaynerchuk’s Twitter profile says “Family First,” but that’s something many people in our industry say without actually following through. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that Vaynerchuk does indeed put his family first. 

Be present

One of the other things I noticed during that trip was how Vaynerchuk never hurried anyone. He was exactly the opposite of many of the divas you see on social media today. For example, after his book signing, I took him to a party that was held in his honor and filled with “Vayniacs” (passionate Gary Vaynerchuk fans).

You might expect the guest of honor to be “too busy” or “too important” to talk to everyone. Well, in many cases, you’d be right. But not our man Gary Vee.

Nope, Vaynerchuk took the time to talk with every single person who wanted to talk with him, no matter how long it took. He was completely present with each person. He looked them in the eyes and really listened to what they were saying. 

Be yourself

One big lesson I learned from spending time with Vaynerchuk is that you have to be yourself (as cliché as it sounds). I swear I’m not making this up, but in the two days I spent with him, I never once saw him go to the bathroom; he ate about enough to fill a hummingbird; and according to his schedule, he slept maybe four hours a night.

I finally asked him about that, and he admitted, “I’ve always had a weird metabolism. I don’t need to eat or sleep much.” (I didn’t press him about the bathroom part.)

That might work for him, but I eat like a horse and need sleep, like a LOT of sleep. Don’t try to be like Vaynerchuk if that’s not your body or your metabolism. 

I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Vaynerchuk and learn from him, as well as for the life and business lessons he taught me that I continue to use today. 

Why Your Team Should Practice Collective Mindfulness

Having researched mindfulness in organizations and for leaders for many years, we advocate its implementation in many situations. But we also believe that when it comes to the ability of individuals and teams to thrive at work, a team’s culture will repeatedly trump most individuals’ mindfulness practice. It’s not enough for people at work to build their capacity for emotional regulation if they’re persistently bullied or work in a toxic team.

That’s why we also advocate the practice of team mindfulness. Just as someone practicing individual mindfulness becomes more self-aware and less judgmental, with team mindfulness, the team becomes more aware and accepting of itself as a team. Its members are collectively aware of the team’s objectives, tasks, roles, dynamics, and structures. That awareness emerges as a result of the team regularly paying attention to these factors, openly and non-judgmentally. This is different from each team member practicing mindfulness on their own — which has its own benefits — instead, it’s about what the team does together.

Groups that develop team mindfulness are demonstrably concerned for the wellbeing of their members. They are collectively aware of the tasks and goals that they share; and they are aware of, and able to address, the dynamics that inevitably flow between team members.

In our work with teams we’ve seen that such groups experience less unhelpful team conflict and are psychologically safer. Whether face-to-face or virtual, groups that are mindful at the team level will do better — especially when faced with a crisis.

Based on our research over the last five years we’ve come to understand individual mindfulness as consisting of three key aspects: allowing, inquiry, and meta-awareness. We now find this a helpful way of describing team mindfulness as well.

Allowing

Allowing is the wisdom to accept present-moment reality and to approach any situation openly and compassionately.

Accepting things as they are doesn’t amount to neglecting your team’s responsibility to change that which should be changed. Rather, it’s about not putting an exorbitant amount of energy into wishing things were different than they actually are or figuring out who is to blame (a common reaction to things going wrong — especially in a crisis). It means avoiding “if only it weren’t like this” discussions and instead asking how to solve the problem together.

Allowing involves embracing team member’s personal experiences, not just their professional ones. Team members encourage one another to share more about themselves (but always give choice here, respecting individual and cultural preferences). The team’s compassion for one another builds as they find out what matters to their colleagues and the circumstances they are in.

In one team we worked with, for example, one of the members seemed to have a constantly critical mindset. Nothing was ever good enough: the team’s performance, the organization, other team members. In a dialogue about the team’s dynamics in which the issue was raised, team came to realize that she set really high standards for herself, and that she suffered from those standards as well. This realization as a group helped her to ease up on herself and also led the team to value her critical perspective.

Any member of a team (not just the team leader!) can ask:

  • How can we be compassionate towards ourselves as well as to one another?
  • How can we care for and hear our colleagues who have diverse perspectives and circumstances?
  • How can we be more accepting of the system wide dynamics such as organizational culture or the reality of a crisis?

Inquiry

Inquiry is the capacity to be curious at three levels: about individual team members and their habits and preferences (including your own); about your team and its dynamics; and about the organizational and societal system around you.

To satisfy this curiosity, teams should  pause, question and enable moments of reflection. In meetings teams tend primarily to focus on the what: advocating results and targets. They also need to include the how: inquiring into the processes of working as a team. Build time for this into your agenda or use action learning for specific, key team challenges which facilitates the discipline to stay in inquiry before jumping to action. Giving the team a moment to stop and reflect lets you identify the habits that serve and that don’t serve the team and its objectives.

One team we worked with was experiencing low engagement — often team members wouldn’t even join video calls or would spend the whole call on mute without contributing. But when one team member initiated a brief check-in at the beginning of each meeting, asking, “How are you showing up today and what impact would you like to have on other members of the team?” suddenly those team members became more talkative.

Teams can ask themselves:

  • If there was a way to improve our ability to think creatively together, what would it be?
  • Whose voice are we not hearing right now that we need to hear in order to respond well to this situation?
  • How will our response right now — to one another, and to our wider system of customers and suppliers — influence the strength of our relationships in the longer term?

Meta-awareness

Meta-awareness is the capacity to observe and describe experiences from an individual, team, and system-wide perspective rather being confined solely within any individual’s personal experiences. Not an either/or — it’s all of the above. You notice your own perspective and that of the team as a whole, all within some degree of awareness of the system as a whole.

Team leaders are often in the best position to enable meta-awareness, but in a mindful team any member should have the space and opportunity to increase mindfulness in meetings, whether they are face-to-face or virtual. That comes about when everyone in the team is consciously enabled to draw attention to what is happening — in the team dynamic and in the present moment.

It can help to use short mindfulness practices to increase steadiness, awareness, and focus. For example, one-minute meditations to begin a meeting, in which individuals simply check in with themselves, focus on the present moment, and form an intention for the meeting.

But more than that, the team should take the space regularly to consider its own dynamics and any patterns it might be stuck in. Team leaders especially should recognize and observe, in real time, how systemic and cultural assumptions influence their perceptions. Taking a deep breath and standing slightly apart from the flow of events, team leaders can come to see things more clearly. That shift to meta-awareness is particularly useful in a crisis when habitual responses embedded in previous ways of responding are no longer adequate.

Finally, consider designating one team member as the “observer” at your next meeting. Their role is to keep the big picture in mind and to remind the team of different ways to develop allowing, inquiry, and meta-awareness. Or ask everyone to share their observations at a particular moment in the agenda.

A construction company we work with had a bright orange chair in each meeting room, in contrast to the rest of the subtle decor. When we commented on this, we were told that it was “the customer’s chair.” In team meetings when issues were being discussed and decisions made, the team would pause and listen to the colleague sitting in the orange chair who would speak as if they were a key customer. They would comment not only on the issue, but also on how the team was working together. This practice gave them a valuable fresh perspective and a pause for thought.

Teams can ask themselves:

  • What do we notice that is going on in ourselves and in the team?
  • If we were a key customer, supplier, or a junior employee, how would we see this issue?
  • If we were to be an observer of this team meeting, what would we notice in terms of communication, psychological safety, assumptions, or focus of attention?

To be sure, there is a business case for team mindfulness. Teams that excel in these three areas will be psychologically safer and better able to innovate; they will experience less churn. But there is also a moral case. People in mindful teams will experience higher levels of wellbeing and job satisfaction. Especially in these times, that’s reason enough.

Thinking about a Graduate Degree?

Are you thinking about going to graduate school? Does getting your Master’s seem like the answer to moving you along your career path? Or maybe starting a new one? Obtaining a graduate degree could be the right answer and it can have a positive effect on your career. However, make sure it fits into your career plan and that you are doing it for the right reasons. You should be sure as to why you want a Master’s. It could be a costly waste of both time and money. Before you decide to pursue a graduate degree, make sure you answer the following three questions.

  • Do you know what graduate degree you plan to pursue? 

If you are planning to pursue a graduate degree, you should have a clear understanding of what you want to study. Graduate programs are geared toward a specific subject area and sometimes have concentrations or specializations within the program. It’s important to have a strong interest in the program area that you plan to study. Your interest will keep you motivated and successful. If you are unsure and just know that you want a Master’s degree, first take time for reflection. Then take time to research and ensure you find the right program. You don’t want to end up wasting time and money.

  • Will a graduate degree help your career?

Consider whether a graduate degree is something that will help your career. A graduate degree is not always the answer, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. Sometimes getting the actual work experience will move you ahead faster than getting your Master’s degree. Or possibly a graduate certificate versus a degree would be a better option. It all depends on your specific career. Start by researching your career field and job requirements. Ask your professional network for feedback before deciding if getting your Master’s is the right career move for you.

  • Are you prepared for graduate school?

Graduate school is an intense program of study that requires a big time commitment and typically involves a large amount of reading and writing. The admission process is competitive and can take several months to complete. Each graduate program will have its own requirements, which may include an entrance exam, undergraduate GPA requirement, recommendations, personal statement, and possibly work experience or prerequisite coursework. In addition to academic preparation, you will need to assess your home and work responsibilities and determine if you are prepared for the time and energy needed to commit to a graduate program. You will need to have that work-life balance during graduate school for success.

Hope Is Not a Plan

At the same time, some of us have also entertained a bit of dreaming: I’m finally going to learn Italian! I’m going to start that side business I keep talking about! I’m going to write the great American novel! There’s even been a less-than-helpful reminder going around on Twitter that Shakespeare managed to write King Lear during a plague. As if to suggest that you, too, should be so inspired and so productive. Personally, I’m a bit tired of the social media suggestions that we are all, suddenly, gifted with a bunch of “free” time that should be put to good use. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had less time than I have right now, and the time that I do have is best put to use in rest.

But no matter how you might feel about this moment and how you are using it, it’s worth noting: there is a big difference between dreaming about something and actually doing it. Dreams are important. Aspirations and ideas and hope for the future are part of what gives purpose to our lives and keeps us moving forward. We especially need hope in a moment like the present one. If we don’t have hope and a positive mindset that we will end up somewhere different and better than we are, right now, then we might as well just pack it in and succumb to this pandemic. While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I assume if you’re still reading this that you’re not someone who wants to do that. Nor am I.

How, then, do you make your dreams and hopes a reality? It’s quite simple, really. You stop dreaming and you create a plan and take action. You set realistic goals and action steps that help you to move forward, little by little until you get to where you want to be. It’s simple, but it’s not without work, and that’s the difference between people who achieve their goals and those who don’t. It’s not magic. The ones who get to where they want to be are willing to put in the work. Full stop.

In my experience, people don’t like setting goals. There probably are various reasons for this. For starters, if we never set any goals, we never have to make any forward progress towards achieving them, which gives us an easy excuse for not actually living out our dreams. We all, to some extent, suffer a bit of the impostor syndrome, wondering who we are to dare to imagine a different life than the one we have now. Or we put up obstacles that don’t actually exist, playing out all the what-if’s that might pop up in a bit of analysis-paralysis. What if I start that side business and I can’t manage the number of customers it generates? What if I take that Italian class and realize I’m not any good at it? What if I write a novel and no one wants to publish it? What if, what if, what if. We have to get out of the business of telling ourselves no before others do.

One of my favorite quotes comes from John Maxwell in his book, Mentoring 101. There, he notes, “The greatest achievers in life are people who set goals for themselves and then work hard to reach them. What they get by reaching the goals is not nearly as important as what they become by reaching them.” It can be so easy to focus on the end goal and to forget about the process and the journey. But as Maxwell notes, there is something truly transformative that happens to people who actively set goals and do the work of achieving them. That’s where the real magic happens.

There is interesting research on goal-setting and neuroplasticity that finds that the act of setting goals actually changes your brain. In fact, the more ambitious the goal, and the more motivated you are to achieve it, the more change that happens, which in turn makes you more likely to succeed. You still want to create realistic goals. For example, for me, stating that I have a goal to play the violin on stage at the Kennedy Center is a pretty unrealistic goal for someone who has never touched a violin in her life. Stating that I want to learn to play the violin, on the other hand, is both a stretch goal for me and realistic. I can take classes and learn to play an instrument I’ve never picked up before. Will I be great? Hard to say. Can I do it? Absolutely.

The motivation part of the equation is also something interesting to consider since a big chunk of our lives is spent working on goals that have been given to us by someone else. A syllabus and grading rubric is basically a goal-setting document that outlines what you will be expected to learn over the course of a semester, what tasks you will accomplish in order to achieve that learning goal, and how you will be evaluated. Similarly, at work, we are often presented with a set of goals or OKRs or KPIs to achieve, which have been developed by someone other than ourselves and may not remotely align with our motivation to work. The smart educator and manager would give thought to incorporating the student and employee into this process.

Speaking of process, another stumbling block to effective goal-setting is the actual process of writing effective goal statements. I once heard someone say that most time management courses are taught by people who are strong J’s on the Myers-Briggs and taken by people who are strong P’s. No matter how you feel about the Myers-Briggs as a tool, the point is this: things like time management and goal-setting work well for people who like to-do lists and order and structure. Not so much for those who find their brains are wired a little differently. But whether you love a to-do list or not, there is value in creating a plan. Indeed, research by Wake Forest professor E.J. Masicampo and others has found that during times like the present moment, when there are a lot of interests and needs competing for your attention, the simple act of creating a plan can help not only achieve your goals but also to lessen some of the cognitive load, thus freeing up space to focus on those other needs.

So, whether you’re trying to write the great American novel or start a side business or learn Italian, here’s a process, as written by one of those strong J’s who absolutely loves a to-do list. If this one doesn’t work for you, figure out what does work, and follow that, instead:

  • Where do you want to be, six months or a year from now? Write out a vision or overarching goal statement that describes the future state you would like to see. It’s important to keep it to no more than six months to a year. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • What are your challenges, obstacles, or gaps? Before you move on to goal-setting, take a moment to do a realistic assessment of what may stand in your way. Don’t get hung up here on the what if’s! But acknowledge what challenges in terms of time, money, or other resources may hinder your progress.
  • What are three goals you can set to get you closer to your vision? I like a SMART goal model. What are SMART goals? They are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound. An example of a SMART goal would be: Complete a first draft of a novel by the end of the year. This goal statement is specific and action-oriented, measurable (what will you do? Complete a draft), achievable and realistic (you have the ability and the resources to accomplish the goal), and timebound (by when? End of the year). Like any good to-do list, your goals should progress over time: first I will do this, then I will do this, then I will do this.
  • What are the three action steps you can set for each goal? In a similar fashion, write several concrete action steps that will help you do the work to complete the goal. This is the actual to-do list part. You should be able to check these items off as you progress towards accomplishing your goal.

Hope is not a plan. Your dreams are not a strategy. But they are important first steps. Where do you want to be, and then what’s going to help you get there? Most of us stop with the first part of that equation. We know where we want to be. But the people who turn their dreams into reality are the ones who complete the sentence. Set some goals. Make a plan. And little by little you can make your dreams come true.

So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?

Med school, law school, finance, consulting: these were the coveted jobs, the clear paths laid out before us. I took a job in advertising, which was seen as much more rebellious than the reality. I worked in advertising for a few years, and learned an incredible amount about how brands get built and communicated. But I grew restless and bored, tasked with coming up with new campaigns for old and broken products that lacked relevance, unable to influence the products themselves. During that time, I was lucky to have an amazing boss who explained a simple principle that fundamentally altered my path. What she told me was that stress is not about how much you have on your plate; it’s about how much control you have over the outcomes. Suddenly I realized why every Sunday night I was overcome with a feeling of dread. It wasn’t because I had too much going on at work. It was because I had too little power to effect change.

Thirteen years later, I have been fortunate enough to co-found a branding business, and to partner with some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, helping them launch and grow their businesses with brand baked in from the start. As a founder who works alongside many other founders, I’ve seen firsthand what leads to success, as well as what can go wrong. Here are a few principles that I’ve learned along the way, that aspiring entrepreneurs should consider before sending that “I quit!” email that you’ve been fantasizing about:

Identify a problem that you feel driven to solve.

Starting a business is not easy, and scaling it is even harder. But the strongest fuel is a personal connection to what you’re doing. It could be that you have experience working in an industry and understand its shortcomings firsthand. Or perhaps you’re part of a consumer segment that’s underserved by the current offerings. Maybe you’re simply met with a very specific frustration every day, that others are sure to share. However you come to your idea, you should feel like you have no choice but to start this particular business at this moment in time. It will make the mornings when you wake up and wish that it was someone else’s problem much easier to bear.

Consider your role as founder.

More than ever, people care deeply about who’s behind the companies they’re purchasing from. It’s hard to feel a personal connection to a nameless, faceless corporation, and far more rewarding to support brands that are built by individuals with a compelling story. Particularly on social media, so many brands gain traction by having their founders front and center as part of the narrative: speaking to their experiences, demonstrating humility and vulnerability, and putting a human face to the business. This doesn’t mean that in order to start a company you need to be prepared to be a public persona who reveals every aspect of your private life. However, a willingness to communicate directly with your consumers, in whatever form that takes, goes a long way towards establishing an authentic relationship. It gives people a reason not just to love your product, but to root for your company’s success.

Don’t go it alone.

I’m of the opinion that 99.99% of people who are starting businesses should have a co-founder. No matter how much you trust your team, you can never be completely honest about your fears, nor fully share the burden of responsibility when things get difficult. Not to mention the advantage that comes from bringing together complementary skill sets, and the better outcomes that are driven through healthy debate. What’s more, being a founder can be lonely. As everyone’s boss, it becomes very challenging to form real friendships at work — you certainly can’t bond by complaining about leadership anymore. If a co-founder isn’t in the cards, do everything you can to surround yourself with trusted advisors, mentors, and other entrepreneurs.

Determine how you’ll add value to people’s lives.

The startup landscape has gotten so competitive that within one month, you’ll see three nearly identical businesses launch. You may think you’re sitting on a completely original idea, but chances are the same cultural forces that led you to your business plan are also influencing someone else, at this very moment. That doesn’t mean you should give up, or that you should rush to market before you’re ready. It’s not about who’s first, it’s about who does it best, and best these days is the business that delivers the most value to the consumer. Consumers have more power and choice than ever before, and they’re going to choose and stick with the companies who are clearly on their side. How will you make their lives easier, more pleasant, more meaningful? How will you go out of your way for them at every turn? When considering your competitive advantage, start with the needs of the people you’re ultimately there to serve.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Focus on a familiar activity.

Find a task on your to-do list that’s satisfying but so familiar that it’s not taxing — for example, writing the newsletter you’ve been putting together every month for years. Then do it.

Why does this help? When we perform highly familiar tasks, it’s almost as though muscle memory kicks in. All the steps are so practiced that it’s easy to get absorbed in them and to go with the flow. A task you can start and finish in one sitting will also give you a sense of accomplishment.

Tackle an unfamiliar task you’ve been avoiding.

This tip seems contradictory to the previous one, but it works through a different mechanism. Let me explain.

Yesterday I got some bad news. I threw myself into writing a couple of blog posts, as per the last tip. But then I did a task of the “work — but not really work” variety that I’d been putting off. Specifically, I needed to reread my last book to make sure I wasn’t accidentally repeating any points or examples in my upcoming one. 

Tasks that don’t seem to justify a place in your usual workday — but that you struggle to do in your time off — can be a perfect choice on a low-vibe day. Doing something you’ve been avoiding will help you feel like a competent human whose life is on track. 

You might also try things you’d typically overthink — for example, reaching out to a person in your field whom you’d love to work with but don’t know personally — or a task that’s aspirational and creative. Why not put together a talk or an article about why a way of working that’s standard in your industry is misguided, or make a prototype of that pet project you’ve had in mind? When people feel low, scared, or short on self-confidence, they tend to retreat. When you act as though you have confidence in your ideas and capacities, it provides an antidote to those feelings and can stop the negative spiral.  

Do half your usual work.

When you’re down, being productive can help with mood and resilience. Even for clinically depressed people, long leaves of absence from work are rarely recommended. But trying to perform to a high standard when you’ve taken an emotional hit can leave you so drained that you don’t have the energy to process whatever is bothering you. You need some recovery to bounce back.

A good compromise is to do half (or two-thirds of) your usual work. A modest goal like this can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and procrastinating. If you need to take a mental health day, take one and then resume, making use of the tips described here.

Connect with others.

Loneliness increases stress and reduces productivity. So don’t be scared to be vulnerable with your coworkers; tell at least one person what you’re going through. That will help them understand why you may be a bit less reliable or peppy than usual. 

I’ve written before that our best sources of support during difficult times often aren’t the people with whom we’re closest. Our loose connections sometimes really step up if given a chance. And even small gestures of support from those weak ties can feel extremely helpful, because they’re often unexpected. 

This also means you can avoid oversharing with your family and best friends, which is especially important if those people have a lot going on themselves. And it often results in the weaker relationship growing stronger. 

A caveat: Be sure to share with people you trust — who won’t assume you’ll be completely useless at work just because you’re having some personal stress.

Drop your fear of negative emotions.

There’s no need to worry that difficult emotions will destroy your productivity. In fact, work can be a refuge when you’re in turmoil. I find that sad emotions enhance my creativity and productivity. Anger (especially at being underestimated) tends to make me feel more determined. Anxiety has a more mixed impact. 

So although no one should act like a robot capable of soldiering on through any situation, don’t assume that difficult emotions will negatively impact your work. The key is to use those feelings to propel you rather than try to sweep them under the rug.

When people are experiencing overwhelming, difficult emotions, their instinct may be to spend all day browsing the internet or to drown themselves in work as a distraction. But there are options between those extremes that can help you feel better, bounce back faster, and regain your confidence to handle whatever personal situations you’re facing. 

How to Brainstorm — Remotely

Fortunately, even in a remote environment there are several approaches that can help you solve complex problems effectively.

Get a wide reach

When you and others work together to generate a new solution to a problem, it’s important to remember that you’re doing so by taking advantage of the collected knowledge in the heads of the people involved in the process. The description of the problem serves as a cue for them to reach into their memory and retrieve related information.

Determining who is involved in a brainstorm is therefore critical. Prior to the pandemic, in many organizations it was often hard to get a broad group of people together, because of their varying schedules and/or locations. But because our default was to have in-person meetings, we didn’t engage much with people who couldn’t be physically present as part of the idea-generation process. And we knew that hybrid meetings in which some people are present and some are online are generally a horrible experience for those attending remotely.

One advantage of working remotely is that it’s now easier to bring in a broader group of participants. You have to do this carefully, though. Don’t start with a list of people you want involved in your brainstorming session. Instead, identify the roles and expertise you want, and then find people who fit that description. Ask your colleagues for recommendations of people you might not know who have relevant expertise. This will help you ensure that the group you bring together is more diverse, bringing a range of different backgrounds and perspectives to the problem-solving task.

Take advantage of scheduling difficulties

When people are working remotely, it can be difficult to get everyone scheduled for meetings at the same time, particularly if people are spread across time zones. For brainstorming, though, this can be a blessing. Because you actually don’t need the group to be together to come up with the best ideas.

The groupthink theory shows that, during idea generation, individuals think differently about a problem if they work alone. But when you bring the group together to generate ideas, they tend to think alike, converging on a common solution.

So start your brainstorming process by having each person generate potential solutions on their own, or perhaps have them work in small groups to think about possibilities. What you want to avoid is having the entire group start throwing out ideas at one another—which isn’t ideal in a remote environment anyway. Make sure everyone has had a chance to engage and work on the problem first. One way to do that is to have small groups capture their ideas in a document. A second is to have group members send their initial thoughts to you and to compile them before anyone starts to discuss them.

After that initial stage, collect the solutions that have been generated and send them around to the group to build on them. Create a shared document with the preliminary ideas that everyone can edit, and invite people to further develop the initial proposals. When you read over the collection of ideas that have come in, you might also find that some of the proposals would benefit from the expertise of someone who is not already part of the group. One great thing about having this process extend out over time is that it gives you opportunities to engage new people who can bring valuable perspectives to the problem. Then, later in the process, you can bring the entire group together to discuss the most promising ideas and to reach a consensus about a small number of options to be considered further.

Get specific

There’s a lot of research showing that the more distant you are from something in time, space, or socially, the more abstractly you think about it. This is called construal-level theory. In a remote working environment, this means that you are often physically distant from the site of the problems you’re trying to solve and you therefore think about them more abstractly.

Initially, that abstraction can be a good thing. If you start with a general representation of a problem, you increase the chances that you’ll be reminded of something that comes from another area of your expertise. Abstraction, in other words, can help you to find good analogies to provide insight.

The danger, though, is that you will stay up in the clouds, failing to come up with specific solutions. And it’s hard for people to respond to and build on generic ideas.

We’re going through this process right now at the University of Texas, as we plan for our fall semester during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m leading the working group that is planning our academic offerings. For the past several weeks, we’ve created a specific scenario for not only the mix of classes that would meet in-person and online but also other factors such as the maximum occupancy of classrooms and the use of cloth masks by students, staff, and faculty.

Each week, more than 250 people comment on the scenario and point out potential problems. Not surprisingly, that means it changes considerably. Because the scenario is specific, it leads people to think about issues that might not have come up if the discussion remained abstract. For example, we’ve had to grapple with finding spaces for students on campus who have a class in-person followed by one taking place online. Where will those students sit to attend the online class? It’s not clear that this problem would have surfaced if we weren’t envisioning the solution in detail.

This process of iterative design requires that everyone be willing to treat the elements of that design as tentative from the start. If key people start to defend early decisions, then group members disengage. But, when people see that the specific scenario changes from one version to the next, then they remain committed to improving it.

3 Signs Your Co-Worker May Be Secretly Struggling Right Now

You may have a co-worker who is silently struggling right now. The global coronavirus pandemic is still affecting millions of people and has completely upended all our old ways of living and working, leading to a lot of extra stress we may not even be able to fully acknowledge.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top job-related stressors during the pandemic include: 

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform your job
  • Feelings that you are not contributing enough to work or guilt about not being on the front line
  • Uncertainty about the future of your workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools and dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

In other words, there could be many reasons your co-worker is off their game right now. Lisa Orbé-Austin, a licensed psychologist and executive coach, said the pandemic makes it harder for workers to disconnect from their jobs, and this is leading to burnout.

“I’m hearing a lot of fatigue,” she said. “People feel very tired, [they are] feeling a sense of disconnection from all of their roles, including parenting, and are just feeling not great at anything right now.” 

Different colleagues are experiencing different realities with regard to social isolation and caretaking responsibilities. “What works for you right now is not likely to be what is going to work for somebody else,” said Liane Davey, a team effectiveness adviser and author of “The Good Fight: Use Productive Conflict to Get Your Team and Organization Back on Track.”

Both experts agreed it is good to watch out for changes in behavior that signal a colleague may need support. Here are some marked changes in behavior to watch out for:

1. Your colleague is more distracted and absent. 

Orbé-Austin said to look for unusual ways your colleague is showing up in the workspace. 

“You can see them overly flustered in ways you’re not used to typically seeing them,” Orbé-Austin said. “They’re missing appointments or missing events, or they just feel scattered in a way that doesn’t seem normative for them.” 

2. They’re moodier from the stress. 

Everyone has good days and bad days, but a marked change in behavior like edginess, frustration and irritability are signs to watch out for. 

“Stress can show up as your co-worker seeming irritable, on edge, or even defensive. They may overly focus on worries and concerns, such as all the reasons why a project isn’t going well,” said licensed social worker and executive coach Melody Wilding. 

How to Craft An Elevator Pitch That Gives People Chills in Under 20 Seconds

You are more than likely familiar with Entrepreneur’s popular show “Elevator Pitch,” in which entrepreneurs pitch their company to a board of investors during a 60-second elevator ride. If the investors like the pitch, the elevator doors open and the entrepreneur is invited into the board room to potentially make a deal.

This show’s premise is of course inspired by concept that people in business have embraced for decades now: that a truly good idea can be summed up in the span of an elevator ride.

But this poses a significant dilemma. As an entrepreneur, you’ve likely been toiling away at your idea for some time, possibly even years. How are you supposed to cram all of the value you’ve created in so little time? And if you’re making a pitch in order to attract investments, how can you describe your work in a compelling way, while demonstrating viability in the marketplace, while asking for capital?

You may be surprised to find out that there is a way you can craft your elevator pitch to not only create greater interest in your product or service, but actually give people chills in under twenty seconds.

How people usually do elevator pitches

Among those who put thought into their elevator pitches, there tends to be two basic formulas:

Formula A: Introduce oneself and the name of the company, then describe the product or service in the context of the customer or industry’s pain point. Then, at the end, make the ask.

Formula B: Identify the pain point before introducing oneself and the name of the company. Then describe the product or service, followed by the ask.

While I’m adamant that the only hard and fast rule of communication is that there are no hard and fast rules, I favor Formula B. People are most likely to embrace a solution when it’s provided within the context of a problem they care about solving. By starting with a pain point, the entrepreneur is speaking to what an uninformed audience cares about right away thus making sure that the first thing their audience hears has intrinsic value to them. This helps the audience become immediately invested in solving the problem, which helps the entrepreneur to build some momentum.

What further helps with this momentum is identifying a hole in the marketplace. Sometimes this hole is defined by a new need as dictated by circumstance (e.g. the invention and commercialization of the Internet led to a sudden need for accessing it), while other times it’s defined by the inadequacy of existing solutions (e.g. introducing broadband Internet connectivity as a superior alternative to dial-up). Still other times the hole is defined by a problem that the audience doesn’t actually know they have (e.g. how to access the Internet without wires when the marketplace was introduced to Wi-Fi).

What all of these different holes have in common, however, is that they are highlighting the typical solutions that don’t work — or that don’t work as well. This helps the entrepreneur to build momentum because it highlights why the pain point is as powerful as it is — why it’s seemingly so hard to make that pain go away.  

However, there is one ingredient that nearly every entrepreneur overlooks. It can redefine not only elevator pitches, but presentations, speeches, webinars, articles, and even books.

And this ingredient can make your captive audience in that elevator get chills in twenty seconds or less.

An example from an unlikely source

You may remember the 2011 film Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. Based on a true story, Pitt plays the general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2002. His and Hill’s characters implement a fundamentally different approach to building a Major League Baseball team, and eventually win twenty games in a row, the most consecutive wins in the American League at that time. What is perhaps most significant about their season, though, is how they tied the New York Yankees for the most wins in the American League with a roster that cost a small fraction of the New York roster.

Toward the beginning of the film, Hill gives a little speech to Pitt that can be considered an elevator pitch of sorts — he has a short amount of time to capture Pitt’s attention.

Hill explains to Pitt that there is an “epidemic failure” in how the leaders in most Major League teams manage their teams. He explains that by filling their rosters with expensive star players, they are fundamentally misunderstanding what it takes to have a winning ball club.

Where the conversation becomes interesting, though, is that he then describes this flawed approach as baseball clubs’ desire to buy players. He states that the point shouldn’t be to buy players, the point should be to buy wins. And to get wins one needs to get runs.

In Times of Crisis, a Little Thanks Goes a Long Way

The chatter in our cafeterias and conference rooms is replaced by the disquiet we’re experiencing inside our socially-distanced bubbles. From general malaise to specific maladies, many employees are afflicted by stress and anxiety that make brushing teeth and cooking a meal feel like the day’s crowning achievements. My clients, executives in a variety of organizations, feel overworked, underappreciated, and cut off from their colleagues. While there’s no panacea for these current ills, regularly practicing gratitude can help.

Research clearly indicates expressing gratitude is beneficial to our health and well-being. We’re happier when we’re grateful. During a crisis, taking the time to thank others is vital to dampen loneliness, amp up social connections, and generate generosity. Yet, while the benefits of gratitude are widely acknowledged, we feel thankful a lot more often than we express it — and it seems to be least often expressed at work.

As managers, it’s essential to express gratitude to your employees, especially now. For one thing, being thankful to your team is the right thing to do. People are battling fears about the pandemic and juggling home and work in close proximity. Almost every employee needs to hear that their dedication is noticed and it matters. What’s more, gratitude is proven to show improvements in self-esteem, achieving career goals, decision making, productivity, and resilience.

Yet for busy and stressed-out leaders, it can be easy to put gratitude at the end of a to-do list. During our last coaching session, Mandeep, a senior academic executive, said, “I’m so busy fighting fires from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. that I don’t have time to acknowledge the work my team is doing.” Recognizing that expressing appreciation is more important than ever, we devised five strategies for Mandeep and his organization.

Bring people together for a gratitude shower. Every evening at 7 p.m., people in my neighborhood (and in cities around the world) gather on our balconies and in the streets to applaud essential workers for their sacrifices. Mandeep created the organizational equivalent of this activity by asking everyone to join a live chat at 4 p.m. daily for exactly two minutes. In this time, team members type out compliments for colleagues. Since these notes are written and saved in a chat, people can scroll through past kudos if they miss a session. Use this kind of appreciative communication to foster community by coming together for a daily dose of applause.

Tailor your thanks. Research shows gratitude strengthens relationships much more when it is conveyed as appreciation for what the other person did, rather than about the way it benefited you. For example, “Your creativity sparkled in the virtual happy hour you organized for the team. By creating the theme and sharing ideas for how everyone could follow it, you added a unique touch.”

Take it one step further by understanding how people like to be acknowledged. One tool is the 5 Love Languages. While this framework was originally designed for couples, you can modify it for the workplace. One of your colleagues might respond to words of affirmation, for instance. In that case, send her a carefully crafted email or handwritten note. For those whose preference is acts of service, help them with a research project. To emphasize quality time, schedule a virtual one-on-one with a direct report where you set aside business discussions and take a cue from them on other meaningful topics.

Make them the star attraction. During this pandemic, everyone is going above and beyond. Some days it takes extraordinary effort to perform even the ordinary activity. This is especially the case for invisible work — tasks we take for granted or underestimate the amount of effort involved. Celebrate unsung heroes and feature them prominently in companywide communications. Most executives are communicating weekly with their teams. Why not start each week’s missive calling out the effort expended by someone who seldom takes center stage?

For example, one client showcased the project coordinator who made an offsite engaging through the innovative use of technology: “Thank you, Max, for creating breakout rooms, team colors, unusual signs, and a whiteboard — all through the power of your keyboard, screen, and resourcefulness.” Shining a spotlight on usually unseen accomplishments boosts productivity and increases empathy and understanding about the workload we might unintentionally unleash on others.

Popularize positivity. Research shows a recipient of thankfulness will be more generous and helpful to others. To spark this, create a pay-it-forward movement in your organization. Encourage those who have been thanked to craft a gesture of appreciation for someone else. This spreads the uplift while reducing the pressure on one manager trying to thank multitudes of people. It also expands visibility of individuals and their praiseworthy work.

5 Tips to Spring Clean Your Career

Everyone could benefit from some professional renewal during this time of year.

Five Tips to Help Spring Clean Your Career:

  1. Prioritize Your Workday

Do you find that the day gets away from you without completing what was on your to-do list? It may be time to reevaluate and prioritize your work. Make a list of your top five work priorities and focus on completing them. Try not to get distracted or sidetracked by last-minute requests or less important assignments. Use the technique of time blocking to help you focus and complete work on time. Plan ahead and schedule blocks of time on your calendar for specific work projects and stick to it.

  1. Update Your Resume

Updating your resume at least once a year will help keep track of your work responsibilities, accomplishments, and new skills or training. An updated resume will ensure that you are prepared for unexpected professional opportunities. Reviewing and revising your resume’s Professional Summary statement is also a good refresher for those networking events when you need to tell others about yourself.

  1. Enhance your LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is a great tool for professional networking and industry information. It is also a resource that a majority of employers use to post jobs and search for candidates. Create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one yet or enhance your current one.  Add specific degrees or certifications to follow your name, update your professional headline with keywords that describe you, and keep your summary and experience current.

  1. Increase your professional development

Stay current with your industry by making time for professional development. Join a professional organization, attend a work conference, participate in a panel – get involved. It will help expand your knowledge and network at the same time.  Determine if you need to brush up on any skills or acquire new ones to stay current. Think about ways to increase your professional development so that you continue to grow and move forward.

  1. Reach out and expand your network

Are you in touch with your professional network and do you need to expand it? Make an effort to keep in touch on a regular basis with those in your network and try to expand it to include others outside your regular circles. Building and sustaining your network is a key factor in your success, especially as over 70% of jobs are found through networking.  

A Crisis Playbook for Family Businesses

Almost every family business that we have spoken to in recent weeks is being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The preliminary results of a survey we launched indicate that nearly 90% have seen some negative impact on their business. Some are fighting to stay alive or deal with a major decline in revenue. Others are dealing with greater demand and stressed supply chains. Most are feeling isolated as they make decisions that will shape their future.

There are many great resources for businesses already available to manage the impact of the coronavirus. But family businesses differ from other companies in that their form of ownership gives them the ability to take critical actions that could help them through these difficult times.

Family owners, who may or may not have executive roles in the company, have power that is often hidden or unappreciated. They have the right to change almost every aspect of how the company works: what it owns, how decisions are made, how success is measured, what information is shared, and how leadership is passed from one generation to the next. Through exercising their rights, family owners have the ability to position the company for long-term success or doom it to failure. Under normal circumstances these are powerful rights, which owners need to exercise thoughtfully.

But in a business crisis, the power of owners is magnified. Unlike public companies, which typically focus on maximizing shareholder value, family owners value objectives that usually go well beyond financial returns (e.g., family legacy, reputation). This crisis is forcing family businesses to make trade-offs among objectives that would have previously been unimaginable—all while dealing with the complex dynamics of a family. The stress, anxiety, and fear that come out in a crisis can amplify already challenging dynamics, paralyzing decision making throughout the enterprise or causing conflict to spiral out of control. On the other hand, the crisis can be a call to action, causing family owners to “rally around the flag,” put aside their differences, and take actions that allow the business to survive.

Our survey shows a split between those reactions: 29% have seen some negative impact on family relationships, while 24% have seen a positive impact (the rest have seen no change).

The ultimate impact of the crisis on your family business will be substantially shaped by how you, as owners, respond. Through the choices you make, or fail to make, the owners of a family business will affect how the crisis is managed by company leaders and what kind of company, if any, emerges on the other side. We will highlight five specific actions that owners need to take in order to ensure that company leaders – especially executives and boards – have the proper guidance and tools to respond to the crisis:

1. Define what type of family business you want to preserve.

  • Which assets in the family enterprise must be maintained and where is there flexibility to sell or starve some parts to save the whole?
  • Under what circumstances would you consider opening up ownership to employees, in-laws, or outside investors to bring in new forms of capital?
  • Should you consider changing your model of family business ownership?

At the heart of your family business are choices you have made about what you own together, who can be an owner, and how owners exercise control. Together they determine what it means to have a family business. You need to clarify whether any of these choices can be revisited or whether company leaders need to work within those constraints.2

2. Review your governance structures and processes.

  • Do you have the forums you need across the “four rooms” of family, owner, board, and management? If you’re missing an important party during the crisis,  how will you fill the gap?
  • How will you make the major decisions you will be face? Are there certain decisions that the owners should be more or less involved in? Are you clear about who has authority to make key decisions?
  • Do you need to revisit any policies you have set (e.g., dividend, family employment)? Or do you need to set new policies to deal with these unique circumstances?

Managing through a crisis requires the ability to make major decisions faster than ever. Actions that might have seemed drastic several months ago can quickly become insufficient to meet the challenges faced by the company. Embedded in your family business is a way of working that may need to change. It’s up to you as the owners to “decide how you will decide” during trying times.

3. Revisit your “owner strategy” for the company.

  • What values will inform your actions during the crisis?
  • How will you make tradeoffs among your stakeholders? For example, how do you prioritize the needs of employees (wages, benefits), customers (staying open, extending credit), and suppliers (paying bills)? Are there certain objectives for which you are willing to lose money (e.g., retaining employees, supporting the community)? Two-thirds of survey respondents say they have reduced or shifted operating expenses to preserve cash.
  • Are you open to changing the company’s capital structure? Will you raise your borrowing limits if the company needs additional debt? Are you willing to recapitalize the company? Over 40% of the survey respondents are raising cash through new debt or equity.
  • Will you reduce dividends? Around a third of survey respondents have cut them, or plan to.

Owners have the right, and responsibility, to define what success means for the business. That involves making trade-offs among different objectives, financial and non-financial. Company leaders need to know what matters most to you so they can do their best to achieve it.

5 Questions That (Newly) Virtual Leaders Should Ask Themselves

It is safe to say, that for the first time in the age of technology, ad hoc face-to-face meetings are no longer an option for many people. While we don’t anticipate in-person meetings to go away forever, working during the Covid-19 crisis does provide us with the opportunity to reflect on how the best leaders succeed in virtual environments.

For many, working from home, and communicating through digital mediums like Slack, Zoom, and WebEx, are nothing new. Many business models have supported virtual work for years as a necessity to accommodate employees and clients in various locations. Still, while technology has improved our ability to get work done and communicate remotely, we have not yet been forced to develop a set of best practices for leading remote teams at the capacity that has been brought on by this crisis.

My intent here is to challenge leaders to pause and identify what they need to do differently not only to sustain, but also to strengthen their skills in a virtual setting‚ particularly during a time when their teams are looking to them more than ever for direction.

First, it’s important to be aware of the factors that make working together virtually such a challenge:

  • For some, it’s uncomfortable. Every day, I watch my teenagers laugh and chat with their friends on Facetime, as if they were just another person in the room. But for many of us adults, who didn’t grow up with that same technology, it can still be quite uncomfortable. This lack of comfort makes it harder for some to open up, connect, trust, and communicate with each other virtually. If you are a leader today, in a virtual setting, you may be struggling to display the same level of authenticity and provide your team with the same sense of safety as you did in person.
  • Interpersonal dynamics are harder to manage. Both for technical reasons and because people are harder to read over video, the appropriate affect, tone, pacing, and facial expressions that we rely on for effective communication in person are more difficult to give and receive virtually, especially in group settings.
  • You can easily lose people’s attention. It’s challenging enough to engage people in a face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings often come with a plethora of new distractions that you have little control over.
  • New skills are required, from you. Whether it’s managing tech, maintaining strong facilitation skills, or rethinking agendas, virtual is different than in-person. Knowing that is half the battle.

With these factors as a backdrop, ask yourself five questions to ensure you are being the best leader you can be as you manage your team from home.

Am I being strategic enough?

Strong leaders practice strategic communications in every interaction, be it a full-day meeting, an hour-long meeting, a sales call, a one-on-one check-in, or even an email. But communicating virtually requires even more strategic planning because you can’t rely as much on human connection or charisma to carry you. Before every exchange, take time to think about your purpose, audience, and the context of the exchange. Then write down your objectives, agenda, and the amount of time you want to spend on each item.

It helps to make your objectives broader than usual. For example, what do you want the other person (or people) to feel after you talk? Challenge yourself to up the engagement quotient to make up for the deficit of face-to-face interaction. This means asking more questions during your interactions, checking in with team members to make sure you are aligned, and leaving extra time for those moments to take place during presentations or group meetings.

Have I revamped communication plans for my direct team and the organization at large?

Moving operations virtual means that it’s time to revisit and potentially revamp your communication protocols with direct reports, employees, board members, and any other audiences you regularly work with. For example, you must now think about how you will run your weekly check-ins with team members. Will you hold these meetings by phone, over slack, or schedule a video call? While best practice says video is best, you may need to adjust your approach based on the preferences of individual employees. The same goes for meetings with clients and other stakeholders.

Using a table in a word document or Google Sheet can help you create a comprehensive plan for different types of meetings. Create at least four columns, including one for each of the below items:

  • Mode of communication (i.e. video, phone, slack)
  • Meeting cadence (i.e. weekly, monthly)
  • Meeting agenda (i.e. team building, check-ins)
  • Meeting participants (i.e. managers, board members)

Fill out your table based on how you worked prior to moving virtual, then, revamp the entire plan to adjust to your current situation.

As you begin to “revamp,” challenge everything you considered “best practice” before, from the size of your meetings to the time allotted. Ask: Should a video call  be used for all announcements or can I simply write a status report to update the team? Do I need to schedule more check-ins with my direct reports to make up for the lack of being in person? Does that meeting that took an hour in the office need to last the full 60 minutes online? Should each communication be followed by a detailed email summary to keep everyone on the same page?

Looking at the entire plan will allow you to optimize it.

How might I reset roles and responsibilities to help people to succeed?

Some people thrive while working remotely, while others may feel a lack of motivation or encounter other unforeseen challenges. Though it may not be apparent who is struggling at first, as a leader, it’s your job to check in regularly with team members about how they are coping. During your one-on-ones, ask: “How are things going for you? What challenges are you facing? What do you think you need to be successful? How can I, or the team, help?”

Through these discussions, re-evaluate each person’s strengths and weaknesses. You may find that you need to shift responsibilities around or invest in training sessions for those who feel less comfortable. For example, one of your team members might excel at running meetings in-person, but lack either the technical or facilitation skills to run them remotely. Or you may find that you have an individual who participates actively during in-person meetings, but not as actively in virtual meetings.

Because change — like shifting a role and taking on new work — can bring up sensitivities in people, it’s important to frame any suggestions you make as opportunities for growth. By diagnosing your direct report’s strongest and weakest points, placing them where they can succeed, and providing them with guidance when they are struggling, you will not only help your team be more productive, you will be helping your employees develop. In these conversations, also be sure to ask for their feedback and thoughts with respect to how the team can improve. Remember that respect, authenticity, and caring are foundational to strong leadership.

Am I keeping my eye on (and communicating about) the big picture?

When you’re working remotely, it’s easy to focus solely on the tactical, to stay glued to your computer, fielding email after email, in an earnest, unorganized fashion. With your to-do list looming in front of you, and no colleagues to pull you out of your head, you may be tempted to stay buried in the weeds. But people rely on leaders for direction, especially during uncertain times. This means, no matter how many small tasks are clogging your calendar, you need to be able to pick your head up and keep one eye on the bigger picture.

Be sure to carve out time to work “on” the business (strategy), as opposed to working “in” the business (operations). Do this by blocking off time on your personal calendar to think about strategy. Or, if your thoughts are clear, schedule a strategy session with your team. Use this time to revisit fundamental questions about the business and organization, like: “Is our value proposition clear to our customers? Are there opportunities for us to improve our business model? Is our team engaged, productive, and inspired to do their best work?”

Keep in mind this idea from Michael Porter’s classic piece, ”What Is Strategy?” He wrote, “New [strategic] positions open up because of change…new needs emerge as societies evolve.” It’s more than likely that the shifts you are experiencing during the Covid-19 crisis will present opportunities for your business, organization, and for you as a leader. In a time when it’s easy to only be focused on defense, it’s up to leaders to go on the offensive and be on the lookout for doors that might be opening.

What more can I do to strengthen our company culture?

I am continually struck by the stories I hear of teams growing even stronger during this time. Many of the most resilient leaders I work with have accomplished this by finding opportunities to align, engage, and inspire their teams around a purpose. Right now, teams need to feel connected, not only to the company’s mission but also to each other.

One way to accomplish this is to regularly set aside time for team members to highlight and share wins delivered either to customers, each other, or to the business itself. If well-crafted, you can tie the “bright spot” sharing to the company’s vision, mission, or values, reiterating the importance or the organization’s purpose and the essential role that everyone plays in achieving it. If meeting time is tight, a slack page, a quick email or another type of non-verbal communication can also be used.

To bring people together, you may also consider prioritizing some team building avenues that were less essential before. Many of our clients have begun conducting virtual social hours, meditation groups, art sharing clubs, team music performances, and fitness challenges. While these options may not be for everyone, they are just a handful of examples we have seen initiate positive team dynamics. Even something as simple as starting a meeting by asking people to bring a video, a meme, or a photo that gives them joy can foster comradery and a needed laugh.

Is there a silver lining to our current business environment? I would say, yes. The leadership skills you are building now will continue to serve you after Covid-19. There is no going back to exactly where we were before. New opportunities will open up — maybe full virtual workforces on a level we’ve never seen. And thanks to an unforeseen time in our history, you’ll be ready for it, with new skills in place to truly lead, whether from home or the office, more effectively than before.

5 Reasons to Write a Letter to Yourself (and How to Do It)

In high school, my English teacher had everyone bring in a self addressed envelope. She gave us some paper and told us to write a letter to our future selves. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I realize now that she was doing us all huge favor. She was giving a gift to our future selves.

After we wrote the letters, she took them and said she would mail them in five years, just as most of us would be graduating from college.

I will never forget reading that letter when it came back to me, exactly five years later as she had promised. It was a rare chance to reflect honestly on the passage of time and on my own personal growth over that formative period in my life.

This is an incredible exercise to do no matter how old you are. Writing a letter to yourself gives you insight and teaches you valuable life lessons that will stick with you long afterwards. Think of it as a time capsule.

1) Cultivate gratitude.

One of the best things for your emotional health is to practice gratitude regularly. It reduces stress and helps you realize what you have. If you’re going to write a letter to yourself, an expression of gratitude is one of the wisest things you can include.

This letter is a message in a bottle. When you open it years from now, you likely have forgotten what you wrote. So give yourself a gift relive some of the same thoughts that you feel today..

Fill it will positive affirmations and appreciation for the person you are. When it’s time to open it up, your future self will thank you.

2) Increase self-awareness.

Do you ever go back and scroll through your old Facebook posts? It hurts, doesn’t it? Like listening to a recording of your own voice.

It’s uncomfortable, it’s a healthy discomfort, because you’re confronting your own shortcomings. You’re embarrassed by your own naivety and your lack of self-awareness. This is actually a good thing, because it shows you how much you’ve grown.

When I opened my own letter after five years, I was blown away by two things– how much I had changed, and how little I had changed. It’s incredible how we can grow and shape who we are, but we are still fundamentally and unalterably ourselves.

All of your quirks and thought patterns will show up as plain as day. You take one step closer toward understanding exactly what is is that makes you authentically YOU.

3) Create your future.

Where will you be in five years? Who do you want to become?

Maybe you’re stuck in a dead-end job, or you just graduated and you’re uncertain about your future. It can start to feel like your best days are behind you.

This exercise helps get your thoughts out of the present and keeps you focused on what is yet to come. Sit down and address a letter to yourself in 3, 5, or 10 years and tell me that you don’t feel hopeful and excited for your future.

Let your mind run wild. Think big and give yourself permission to be wildly ambitious. What principles will guide your life? What do you hope to accomplish? How are you going to do it? If you vividly imagine your future in concrete terms, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4) Appreciate the passage of time.


Don’t forget to check out our 30 Days of Purpose and Productivity throughout April and our “Using Social Distancing to Grow” Bingo Card to track your progress.

7 Important Reasons to Unplug & Find Space

Technology has some wonderful benefits. I use it almost every day. And I would never, ever argue against the responsible use of it.

However, that being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that our world is developing an unhealthy attachment to it.  Addiction to our technology and overall cell phone addiction is becoming too common:

  • 84% of cell phone users claim they could not go a single day without their device. (source)
  • 67% of cell phone owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. (source)
  • Studies indicate some mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes. (source)
  • 88% of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television. (source)
  • Almost half of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls. (source)
  • Traditional TV viewing eats up over six days (144 hours, 54 minutes) worth of time per month. (source)
  • Some researchers have begun labeling “cell phone checking” as the new yawn because of its contagious nature. (source)

But we don’t need statistics to tell us we are addicted to our technology. We already know this to be true—which is probably why this powerful video has received over 13,000,000 views in less than six days (and over 51.7 million as of September 2019).

But we need to be reminded again and again: Technology addiction is powerful but it does have a power-off button. And the wisest of us know when to use it and when to take a more minimalist approach to our technology.

Consider again, just some of these important reasons to unplug:

1. Powering-down helps remove unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy, and loneliness.

Researchers discovered something frightening about Facebook addiction: one in three people felt worse after visiting Facebook and more dissatisfied with their lives.

Certainly, not every interaction with Facebook is a negative one. But typically, our own experience validates their research. From family happiness to body image to vacation destinations to the silly number of birthday greetings on a Facebook wall, the opportunity for envy presents itself often on social media.

Powering-down for a period of time provides an opportunity to reset and refocus appreciation and gratitude for the lives we have been given. It allows us to remember how to be happy without all the screens.

2. Powering-down combats the fear of missing out.

Scientifically speaking, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has been recognized as a recently emerging psychological disorder brought on by the massive increase in technology addiction.

The premise is simple. Our social media streams are ever-filled with everything happening all around us. Nowadays, we even see the plates of food our friends are enjoying. And within this constant stream of notification, our fear of being left out continues to grow.

Turning off social media and learning how to live in the moment are both important skills in this modern world.

3. Solitude is harder to find in an always-connected world.

Solitude grounds us to the world around us. It provides the stillness and quiet required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the message in our hearts.

In a world where outside noise is coming quicker and louder than ever, the need for solitude becomes more apparent… and easier to overlook. True solitude and meditation will always require the intentional action of shutting off the noise and the screens.

4. Life, at its best, is happening right in front of you.

Our world may be changing, but the true nature of life is not. Life, at its best, is happening right in front of you. These experiences will never repeat themselves. These conversations are unfiltered and authentic. And the love is real. But if we are too busy staring down at our screen, we’re gonna miss all of it.


Don’t forget to check out our 30 Days of Purpose and Productivity throughout April and our “Using Social Distancing to Grow” Bingo Card to track your progress.

How to Conduct a Social Media Audit

Day 8: Audit your Social Media

Here is an excerpt from Hootsuite to help you get started today.

1. Create a document for your audit (or use our template below)

An audit begins with some detective work, and it’s important to have somewhere to put your findings.

The best way to keep track of all the information you’ll uncover during your audit is to use a spreadsheet.

We’ve created a social media audit template for you, which you will find above and at the end of this article. If you’d prefer to create your own spreadsheet, you can do so using a program like Excel or Google Docs. For each social account, you’ll want to record:

  • the link to your profile (for example, instagram.com/hootsuite)
  • your social handle (for example, @hootsuite)
  • the internal person or team responsible for managing the account (also known as the “owner”—for example, the social marketing team)
  • the mission statement for the account (for example, to promote company culture using employee photos, or to provide customer service during office hours)
  • the top three posts in terms of engagement
  • three important metrics
  • key demographic information

You should also include a column for any relevant notes about the account.

2. Track down all your social media accounts

Now that you’ve got a document to track your accounts, it’s time to go on the hunt. Start by listing all of the accounts that you and your team use regularly. But don’t assume that covers all your bases.

For example, there might be old profiles created before your company had a social strategy. Maybe these were abandoned at some point. It’s time to bring them back into the fold.

Or maybe various departments within your company are using social media, but there’s no unified system or list of accounts.

This is also a good time to identify networks where you don’t yet have a social presence, so you can start thinking about whether you should add them to your social strategy, or at least create profiles to reserve your handle for the future.

Search the web

Google your company name and the name of your products to see what social accounts come up. If you find accounts you don’t recognize, do some investigating to determine whether they’re actually connected to your company, or if they’re impostor accounts run by someone not affiliated with your brand.

Search social networks

After your Google search, it’s worth visiting each of the main social networks and searching directly for your brand and product names to see if you uncover any unexpected accounts.

Once you’re sure you’ve tracked down all the relevant accounts, set up a social media monitoring program to keep an eye out for any new impostor accounts that might pop up in the future.

Log your findings

Record all the relevant accounts you find in your audit document. Use the notes column to indicate any accounts that require further research—for instance, if you can’t tell whether the account was created by someone at your company or by an impostor.

Use the “Unowned accounts” tab to record imposter accounts and make notes about the steps taken to have these accounts shut down. Start by contacting each account holder directly, since it could be a simple misunderstanding or a case of a passionate fan taking things too far. But be prepared to escalate matters to the social networks for help if you can’t resolve things yourself.

3. Make sure each account is complete and on brand

Once you’ve logged all of your accounts, take the time to look at each one thoroughly to make sure it’s consistent with your current brand image and standards. In general, you should check the following:

Profile and cover images

Make sure these incorporate your current brand logo and imagery.

Profile/bio text

You have limited space to work with when creating a social media bio, so it’s important to make the most of it. Make sure all fields are filled in completely and accurately with current brand messaging.

Handle

Are you using the same handle across all social channels? In general, it’s a good idea to do so if you can.

Of course, you might need different handles if your accounts serve different purposes. Take a look at your handles and record in the notes if you want to make changes for consistency across social platforms.

Links

Make sure you link to your homepage, an appropriate landing page, or a current campaign.

Pinned posts

Evaluate your pinned posts to ensure they’re still appropriate.

For more tips, click here to read more.


Don’t forget to check out our 30 Days of Purpose and Productivity throughout April and our “Using Social Distancing to Grow” Bingo Card to track your progress.

Why You Should Become an “Intrapreneur”

Do you try to learn new things at work?

Do you ask your boss to coach or mentor you?

Do you often take on more tasks than your role formally requires?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are probably already job crafting, which is defined as the ability to make your job more meaningful by aligning it with your interests and values. This notion is consistent with well-established scientific evidence on the benefits of matching people to a role that is a good fit with their abilities, personalities, and beliefs. With engagement and performance levels being generally higher when people are matched to a role that fits their natural predispositions or potential, it is clear that what we usually describe as “talent” is mostly personality in the right place.

As Confucius allegedly said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” In line, a great deal of psychological research indicates that people are much more likely to enjoy their work, to the point of reaching a state of flow or loosing themselves — and any perception of time or effort — when they are asked to do something they actually enjoy.

Individual preferences aside, there appears to be one general element underpinning most effective approaches to job crafting, which is the ability to make your job (or work) more entrepreneurial. This goes way beyond starting your own business or launching a start-up: what I mean by the term is the overall tendency to harness innovation in your work, by finding better ways of doing things, and proactively nurturing progress in your organization. As it turns out, most organizations — especially large corporations — are awash in creative ideas that never get executed. Entrepreneurship is the process that turns those ideas into actual innovations, and when it occurs in large corporations we tend to refer to it as intrapreneurship or corporate innovation. In essence, this means acting like an innovative entrepreneur, but within the ecosystem of a larger, more traditional, organization.

Research shows that being intrapreneurial tends to elevate both employee engagement and productivity scores, and that short redesigns — and even a simple reframing — of your role can make your work more intrapreneurial and meaningful. This is particularly true if you are generally more reward sensitive, meaning you are more motivated by chasing carrots than avoiding sticks. In fact, people who are cautious and risk-averse in their typical mindset may end up suffering if their role becomes more intrapreneurial.

So, what are the critical competencies and behaviors you can adopt to make your job more intrapreneurial?

The first is a focus on selling, as intrapreneurs excel at taking dormant ideas or standby projects and revitalizing them with their influence and sales skills. One of the chief obstacles for innovation in large corporations is the fact that many good ideas — including creative ideas that were poorly executed — suffer from a lack of timing, sponsorship, or salesmanship. Recognizing what these ideas are and having the vision, gravitas, and resilience to bring these ideas to the right people — internally and externally — will turn you into a strong change agent. Even people who are hailed as great innovators, such as Steve Jobs, did not actually invent much of anything — but had the vision and marketing skills to make existing ideas more enticing, and to make other people want to buy them.

A second critical competency is to be more proactive, which means making things happen as opposed to waiting for things to happen. If there is one trait leaders rightly adore in their employees, is the capacity to get stuff done, and that is purely a function of proactivity. Proactive people take initiative and move quicker than their peers. They are not afraid of making mistakes and prefer to apologize than to ask for permission. In the wrong culture, this will of course get them into trouble. But they are typically not bothered by that, because they are interested in their job only if they can make an impact. This approach to work very much mirrors the key characteristics of inclusive leaders, which are a combination of curiosity, passion, humility, and a fearless devotion to change. Nobody is a leader for the sake of keeping things as they are. The essence of leadership is change, and proactivity is the fuel for any force of change.

A third key element is to engage in prosocial or altruistic behaviors at work. Paradoxically, few things appear to be more self-rewarding than giving. Indeed, from a very early age, children experience an increase in happiness when they are able to behave in generous and altruistic ways. This is only reinforced in adulthood, with many scientific studies showing that happiness and prosocial acts are positively correlated, and that few traits are as central to happiness and subjective wellbeing as emotional intelligence (a modern name for empathy). This idea is consistent with workplace research showing that people will experience a stronger connection and higher sense of purpose at work if they have the chance to connect and get along with others to feel a sense of camaraderie.

In short, find a way to be nice and do good to others and your job will become much more meaningful and enjoyable. Ultimately, all entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are in it for this very reason: they want to improve the world and drive progress, and you can do the same through your everyday work.

Online Learning – Factors for Success

If you are enrolled in an online degree program or thinking about taking an online course, there are several factors to consider before you get started. Although online courses offer the benefit of flexibility, did you know that they typically require more time and work than a traditional classroom course? Online courses also have a retention rate that is often 10 to 20 percent lower than traditional classes. Keep in mind the following factors to ensure success in your online learning.

Time Management 

Time management is one of the biggest keys to success in online learning. You will need to set a study schedule, which includes time for daily log-ins and work on your class (verify time zone). A minimum of 6 hours per week should be spent per 3 credit hour course – this includes instruction/lectures, readings, and assignments. Find a way to hold yourself accountable to this schedule so that you don’t get behind. It will take strong self-discipline to stick to a daily study schedule and not get distracted from your work and personal commitments.

Technology Readiness

Are you technology-ready for online learning? You will need access to a computer with Internet, Microsoft Office, Flash or Java programs, and possibly a web camera. In addition, you will need to have the necessary skills to use the technology in order to obtain class information, participate in discussions, and post assignments. Take the technology tutorials before your class begins so that you know how to navigate the classroom platform and ensure you have the necessary software. If unsure, reach out to the technology support office at your institution.

Class Participation

Online courses typically require frequent participation and posting in classroom discussion boards. This shows the instructor that you are learning what is required, but also allows students to hear each other’s opinions and interact, similar to a traditional classroom setting. You will want to connect early with your instructor and classmates to make the most of your online learning experience. Forming that relationship with your instructor is especially important, as you will want to reach out right away if experiencing any difficulty with the course.

Motivation

Staying motivated is critical in online learning. It’s easy to fall behind as the pace is quick and you’re working on your own schedule without the accountability of a classroom setting. Get your support system in place to help you stay motivated, set goals to keep you committed, and celebrate small successes along the way so that you aren’t tempted to quit.

Online learning offers a great alternative to the traditional classroom. Be sure that you have considered the factors necessary for success. Contact your AthLife Advisor for any questions or concerns related to online learning.

Weirded Out by Working From Home?

With the advent of the pandemic, many people are finding themselves in an unfamiliar and unsettling workspace–their homes. I’ve been working at home for over thirty-two years and I’m always surprised by people’s misconceptions. People often say things like “Wow, you can watch television whenever you want” or “You can do the dinner dishes and laundry at your leisure” which are true in one sense but not in another unless you want to end up living under a bridge. In truth, working at home isn’t a good fit for everyone because it takes a fair amount of discipline and flexibility, especially if you are someone who thrives on a set routine as many people do. Most people need some time to decompress to leave home life behind, especially if you have a family, in order to immerse themselves in work.

There’s also a built-in insolation if you work at home and if you’re the kind of person who really needs and likes the exchange with colleagues during the course of the working day, this could hit you hard.

Perhaps, most important, those who freelance all the time and work at home have actually chosen to and you haven’t. That is a key factor.

By the way, I’m not dealing with dealing with kids at home while you work because that’s a whole other problem.

7 Things You Should Do to Make It Easier

While I’m neither a therapist nor a psychologist, it doesn’t take a professional to figure out that unwanted change is the hardest kind of shift to deal with. When life throws you a curveball, your resilience and inner resources are tested and, while working from home may seem like the least of our worries during the pandemic, it may still present a legitimate crisis for some.

So, drawing on long experience, following are some hopefully helpful hints.

1. Decide on a workspace

If you already have a home office, then good on you but many will not; in fact, some of you won’t even have an area in your home that isn’t already dedicated to another use. If you have children and the schools are closed, you will probably need to be in a room with a door since it’s going to take some time for everyone to get used to the fact that Mom or Dad isn’t really “home;” it just looks that way and she or he is actually at work.  Do what you can to make the space—even if it’s just a table in the corner—as comfortable as it can be; in the best of all worlds, you’ll have a window to look out of or something beautiful to rest your eyes on.

2. Decide on the length of your work day, and set hours

Look at what you need to do and how many hours are required and set your work day accordingly. Because I’m a writer and don’t really have to communicate with colleagues, I begin very early in the morning and end before 5 o’clock but the fact is you need to set your own hours just as if you were in an office.

Do take a lunch hour, either to eat or to take a walk or get some exercise. Many people in offices eat at their desks but it’s actually counterproductive when you work from home.

3. Do get dressed and showered

It’s tempting to work in your p.j.’s or bathrobe but, trust me, it’s not a great idea. You have to switch into work mode even if you haven’t left the house and getting dressed is one way to do it. No, you don’t even need to dress as formally as you would for a casual Friday but you need to get your head into a working space. You have to create routines that mimic what you’re used to in order to gear up and work. (Most successful freelancers, including myself, have pretty set routines to maximize their productive time.)

What Every Adult Learner Must Know About Online Degree Programs

There are also fraudulent online schools as well. Fraudulent programs, known as diploma mills sell degrees and transcripts.  Their goal is to make a profit. These “schools” focus on an educational experience where students earn a credential that holds little to no value by employer standards. If you want to be able to find better online programs you have to know what defines a poor program or diploma mill. Read this list to help separate the good from the bad and spot red flags.

Accreditation

Be sure to check that the online degree program is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (DOE). Stay clear of any programs that state they have “international” accreditation, as CHEA and DOE do not recognize any international accreditors. 

Pressed to Enroll

Take notice if you receive numerous calls or emails from an online program’s sales team or financial aid asking if you are ready to enroll. They can seem aggressive when discussing loans and payments. If this occurs, consider researching the program more. 

Website Address

When looking at a specific program’s homepage, remember to check the website address to be sure it ends with a “.edu” URL. This needs to be checked because the “.edu” URL is utilized in the United States by the higher education industry. If the programs website address ends with a “.com” or “.net” URL, this should raise a flag to investigate further. 

Seems too Simple

Remember the saying, “If it is too good to be true, well then it usually is.” Yes, there are institutions that take into consideration prior education and experience. However, it is completed in a specific way with best practices. If you see signs that you can earn a degree with little to no effort, consider staying away from that program.

Career Change: Tips for a Change at any Age

Tips for a Career Change at any Age

It is an excellent time to make a Career Change, with unemployment rates being low. More and more employers are willing to “take a chance” by upskilling the right candidates even if they don’t have direct experience. As a former professional athlete, you might be on your second or third career. People are living longer, taking time to consider how you will spend those days is more crucial than ever before. Let’s look at some factors you should consider before you make that leap. How you weigh the factors develops as the years go by.

Tips for Career Changers in their 30s

Explore and research everything from job duties, educational requirements, job satisfaction to job outlook (growth or decline projections). Spend some time on informational interviews with people who work in your desired field or industry. Since you are planning for a change you should arm yourself with as much “data” as possible. It is important to make an informed decision. This is the case for career changers of any age, but when you consider you could be working for another 30-40 years, it’s even more crucial.

You have some financial advantages. People generally need less money to live in their 30s than they will in future decades. Expenses like caring for children, mortgage payments, saving for retirement and your children’s educational needs will increase as time goes by. Having less financial overhead affords you the ability to take on more risk, like returning to school full-time or taking an entry-level job to get your foot in the door.

Tips for Career Changers in their 40s

This time is often referred to as “mid-career”. You are about halfway between college and retirement. It’s a great time to use the improved confidence that many have at age 40 to improve your career outlook for the next 20-30 years. You have years of experience and transferable skills to market.

Take time to explore the current job market and yourself. Complete career and values assessments to help you put the pieces together. Finding a role that better fits values and lifestyle are common reasons for a mid-career change. It’s not too late to make this change. If you decide to further your formal education, consider how many hours a week you really have to commit to your studies. Working and family responsibilities can be challenging for adult learners. Educational offerings are almost endless and you can find something that truly fits your needs.

Tips for Career Changers in their 50s

“Career satisfaction will have a positive effect on your health, relationships, and life in general.” states the Balance Careers blog. If you feel like you are counting the days until retirement because you are unhappy at work, that is no way to live. Career change is still possible.

Realize that making a career change is more difficult in your 50s because you may be competing against younger and cheaper employees. Your ability to stay relevant is crucial. Don’t let terminology and technology pass you by. Research the field and study skills gaps to build competencies. You may have to deal with ageism but the treasure trove of transferable skills you possess might be the factor that leads to an offer.

How to Make the Most of a Day

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

We can all admit that getting into a productive everyday routine can be challenging. When we are stuck going through the motions, we sometimes forget how to make the most of each day. We can become complacent and passive, but we need to redirect our focus. Listed below are five tips to make the most of each day.

Wake Up Early

This might seem like a no brainer, but getting an earlier start will allow to you ease into your day. If you need an extra 10 minutes to get moving, try setting your alarm earlier. By getting an earlier start, you can get to the gym, read, enjoy your coffee at home or whatever you choose.

Plan Ahead 

One of the best ways to make the most of your day is to plan ahead! It is better to plan your day the night before, so you wake up with a strategy. You could also plan your day during the extra time you allow yourself when you wake up early. Your plan does not need to be an itinerary drilled down to the minute but an idea of what you would like to accomplish. These could be things such as picking out your clothes the night before, planning what you are making for dinner or scheduling a specific time to exercise, etc.

Eat Breakfast

Eating a healthy breakfast should be part of all our daily routines. Our bodies get energy from the food we eat, so it makes sense to start each day energizing our bodies. This will also allow improved concentration and performance in the classroom, at work or at the gym. When choosing what to eat, be sure to make healthy choices which could include, eggs, veggies, whole-wheat English muffin, oatmeal, etc.

Exercise 

Be sure to move your body each day. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy. Being happy helps to make the most of your day! Along with happiness, exercise will give you an energy boost and can help reduce stress hormones too. No, you do not have to have daily strenuous exercise, just be sure to get up and move around.

Don’t Quit Your Job Before Asking Yourself These Questions

Is it time to quit my job? This is a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another. Most people wait until they feel they must leave their job or organization, and that puts them at a disadvantage. They might end up choosing an “exit job” rather than the right next career step.

Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, be proactive and take the opportunity, at least once a year, to evaluate your organization and your position in it, along with your personal career assets. The three questions below should help you assess where you stand.

Are you working for the right organization?

Make sure you don’t passively ride downhill with an organization in trouble. Here are seven signs that should concern you:

  • A merger, acquisition, or change of control has taken place, and you are not a part of the new changes.
  • Management is criticized again and again in the business press.
  • The organization does not invest in new products or services and chooses to focus on old ways of doing things.
  • People you respect are leaving the company.
  • Profits are down, or if it’s a nonprofit, contributions are down.
  • Outsiders are hired into management positions and begin to bring their own friends.
  • Cost-cutting measures are implemented with little notice or rationale.

If four or five of these signs are true for your organization, take a critical look at it. Talk to the people you know who have left the company. Look it up in the business press. Is it an organization in trouble? There are times when you might want to choose to work for an organization in trouble, but only if there is a career advantage — like being part of the turnaround team or learning an important new skill.

Are you in the right position?

It might have been a great job for you last year, but is it still? A great job is one that helps you grow and learn. It’s one in which the people recognize you for the job you are doing, and a lot of what you’re working on is exciting and rewarding. As soon as you start thinking that the political part of your job is more important than the work you are doing, take a closer look at your position. The following seven signs will help you see the risks:

  • Your bonuses or raises are no longer above average.
  • Your boss circumvents you and deals directly with your subordinates or peers.
  • You are no longer invited to important meetings or to go out to lunch with colleagues.
  • You are doing things you disagree with, or you believe you have to conceal what you really think.
  • You’re making dumb mistakes all the time and can’t figure out why they are happening.
  • Your mentors have left the organization or fallen into disfavor.
  • You can no longer predict promotions or who will be seen as a top performer.

If your organization is a great one, and your job isn’t working for you, look to find another position in another part of your company. The people who can help you most are those who have recently moved within the organization or those whose positions span more than one business area — like auditing or human resources. Otherwise, time to tune up your resume. Don’t get hung up on whose “fault” it is; if it’s time to leave, it’s time to leave.

How are you positioned for your future career?

Unlike the first two questions that focus on the possible risks or liabilities in your current employer and job, this last question gives you a chance to see your situation from the other side of the balance sheet. Review your personal career assets. Are these statements true for you?

  • You have a good reputation both inside your organization and outside in your profession.
  • People call you for help and advice, and you try to help them.
  • You know what you want to learn next and have spent your own money to enhance your career or expand your knowledge in the last year.
  • You know what the hot topics are in your field.
  • You know what the next technical challenge will be in your field.
  • You have a set of professional contacts you can call on for help or support.
  • You volunteer your time in a number of ways.

If you can say “yes” to five or six of the seven statements above, you don’t have to worry. You are well positioned to manage your career. Your personal assets will help balance the liabilities of your current job or employer. If you didn’t score well on this list, you can easily change things. 

3 Strategies to Better Motivate Your Team

Finding a balance between those roles — some of which at first seem to conflict — requires a crystal-clear strategic vision, passion for your people and a commitment to developing your own emotional intelligence.

It’s possible to replace employees, but you can never precisely replicate an individual’s specific skill set. In today’s knowledge economy, the old adage that employees are your biggest asset rings true. One of the most important things you can do as a leader is show your employees you understand this, as well as the value they bring to the table — that you have confidence in their skill sets and expect great things. 

Setting high expectations not only inspires employees, but it also helps you get the best work from them. At the end of the day, your team’s success equals your success. Below are a few key ways to keep your team motivated and, ultimately, help your entire organization succeed.

1. Help your employees chart a career path

Rarely are employees satisfied with clocking in, clocking out and collecting a paycheck. They want to know that they’re learning and growing on the job, that they’re actually working toward something. In fact, according to Work Institute research, career development (or, rather, the lack thereof) is the leading cause of employee turnover in the U.S.

Show employees you care about their development by having conversations about their career objectives, and not just during your annual reviews. A Quantum Workplace study has found that when employees have these types of discussions more than once a year, there’s a marked increase in levels of engagement. Be intentional about this process to ensure you regularly discuss professional goals with each of your direct reports, whether that be via an official quarterly meeting, a casual lunch conversation or something in between.

What should happen during these discussions? First, dial up your emotional intelligence and pay attention to how employees are feeling and responding to you. Make sure your employees know that their career success matters. Share your goals with them, and ask about their own. By discussing your own goals with your employees, you’ll show that you trust them and help them feel more comfortable opening up. Secondly, offer ways that you or the company at large can help them work toward their objectives. Don’t leave the meeting until you both have some concrete action steps. 

2. Seize opportunities for learning

Encourage your employees to learn from work experiences — both the good and the bad. This may require helping those you coach to recognize the learning opportunities in their workday. “Employees are often pushed for time and don’t prioritize their own learning,” notes Michael Butler, principal at Pariveda Solutions, in a company blog post. “As a leader, you can start by helping your team glean key lessons from their work experiences.”

Butler recommends reminding your employees to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and how they can improve in the future. You can call out these daily learning opportunities in the moment or ask your direct reports to think through what could have gone better on a weekly 15Five or quarterly survey.

Identifying and responding to these learning experiences is incredibly powerful; it helps create a culture of learning within your team. In addition, provide resources for continued learning throughout the year. These could take the form of an in-house training platform or financial support for an off-site workshop, among other options. Reward those who make an effort to improve and grow, whether that’s with a gift card, a one-time bonus, access to further educational opportunities or even just bragging rights, such as “Learner of the Month.”

3. Foster friendship

Employees want to have personal relationships with their colleagues, and Gallup research shows that work friendships lead to better performance. When employees truly feel a sense of camaraderie with their colleagues, they feel more compelled to take positive actions to benefit the business.

To help cultivate relationships, allow time and space for your team to interact while they accomplish tasks. That could mean adding 15 minutes of social time with snacks and drinks before an all-hands meeting or setting up “huddle rooms” as more casual conference rooms when teams just need an informal setting to collaborate. Support these tactics by encouraging teams to work cross-functionally. This breaks down silos, contributes to productivity and leads to more opportunities for personal connection.

Luckily, the possibilities for social engagement are virtually endless. You could organize a formal team-building event, a family picnic, an employee heritage celebration or a post-work happy hour. Keep your company culture in mind, and promote the types of activities you think would appeal most to those on your team.

Being a successful leader requires a delicate mix of attributes. You have to be able to set high expectations, motivate employees, provide support and also course-correct when needed. By focusing on employees’s goals, development and relationships, you’ll set up your team — and company — for success.

How to Stay Focused and Achieve What You Want

What’s more, wanting to do something is step 0. Step 1 is getting started, and that doesn’t happen without a calm mind and a view of what lies ahead. The steps beyond are all about creating a setting that ensures persistence. It can be very easy to lose track of priorities, and fatigue and stress are enemies of progress.

If you’re committed to making strides in your personal and professional life this year, you should focus on using productivity tools. They simplify your thinking, streamline processes, and save time. Organizing what lies ahead can also ensure your efforts are aligned equitably among your goals. So use these three techniques to improve your chances of success.

The Science of Writing Things Down

There are distractions all around us. The information and general inputs are ever-increasing. Responsibilities, distractions, and to-dos accumulate by the hour, but the length of a day, along with brain capacity, remains the same.

For certain, you cannot rely merely on yourself to sort everything you need to get done in a day or even in a moment. Using a capture tool can be very helpful. Rather than a traditional to-do list, a capture tool is a dumping ground for the to-dos that come to mind throughout the day. Before closing up shop in the afternoon, you organize those items into your calendar to the best of your abilities and toss the list.

Science proves that this helps in a few ways. First, the act of writing something down frees your subconscious of its hidden efforts to track the task. Second, science shows that just writing something down causes your brain to process them into the first stages of organization. Now in a digital world, why am I advocating for the ole pen and paper? Well, third, throwing out the list provides psychological closure to the day. Finally, turning the page to a blank sheet and putting tomorrow’s date on it is the symbolic action that pulls you into the next day.

So why not use a smartphone? The psychological effects of points three and four in the previous paragraphs are missed, and anyone who has a phone knows that they are Petri dishes of distraction. So do yourself a favor. Go back in time, and get yourself a nice pad or diary book.

Prioritizing Your Tasks

Not having an organized calendar is like not having goals at all, and the items that go into that calendar should have some higher level of priority. But priority is dangerous business at the end of the day, when you will be tired and inclined to delete valuable items in haste.

So as soon as you start your next day, give the calendar entries you made the day before a sanity check. This will allow you to sort your priorities with a clear mind and will give you a nice view of the day ahead to set the stage. Be realistic with your time. It is much better to work slow and steady than to torture yourself with the stress of always being behind, which makes you prone to error. 

If you get to a scheduled item and can’t fit it in, immediately reschedule it. Don’t’ let it get lost in the past. And don’t torture yourself over a postponed or incomplete task. This self-belittlement is more behavior that will give you disdain for the journey and cause error-prone stress.

It also helps to take a sanity check over your calendar at the beginning of each week. Look for things that have been lingering—for instance, that have been postponed three times or more. Ask yourself about them:

  • Does this need to be done this week? Punting a task into the future, when genuine, is a way to prioritize.
  • Do I need to be the one to do it? You’d be surprised at how much great help you can find from colleagues or independent contractors on Upwork.
  • Does it need to be done at all? Many tasks end up on your capture tool when you are in a frantic huff that make no sense at all when clear-minded.

Employing the tactics already stated here will likely help you to avoid a lot of toil and stress, but always working is a perfect recipe for eventually halting your efforts.

Creating Balance

A Deloitte survey revealed that 77 percent of respondents had experienced burnout in their current job. Burnout is synonymous with complete stasis and a perfect foundation for disease and lower life expectancy. I am the biggest proponent of getting things done you may ever find, but remember what they say about too much of a good thing?

Another secret enemy is a cluttered workspace. A messy desk is not only a detriment to how others see you but how you view yourself. Achievement requires you to mentally puff your chest out and lead with your chin. Keep an organized workspace. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disorganized when you have a messy work area. Take time to clear off your space so you can focus on what’s in front of you and what you’re working on. 

Fresh air and movement are also important. Sitting in the office all day isn’t good for you physically and slows you down mentally. Reminding yourself to take a break (which may feel unproductive) will increase your attention and ability to get things done. And if you are one of those who absolutely can’t leave the office for whatever reason, walking while working has been shown to improve cognitive function by 60 percent.

There is an art to writing a book, getting a promotion, or becoming a top sports competitor. What we fail to realize, however, is that there is an art to the approach we take to organizing and executing on this art that is needed to accomplish these things. Someone can sit in front of you and give you every task you need to accomplish whatever you want in life. But if you aren’t methodically about what you choose to do, when you do it, and how quickly, it won’t matter that you know what to do. So take heed to the techniques I’ve described.

Navigating a New Job with a Very Different Culture

Just as we become habituated to a country’s culture — we know the “right answer” when someone asks us how we’re doing, or which topics are off-limits with casual acquaintances — the same thing happens in corporate life. We develop an unwritten understanding of how interactions should go, and it can be jarring when we trip across unexpected fault lines.

As an executive coach focused on leadership communication, I’ve spent the past decade working with senior leaders on how to position themselves effectively with new colleagues and stakeholders. Here are four strategies that can help ease your transition into a new environment.

Solicit opinions before offering your own.

Coming into a new environment, you may have been briefed by the board, CEO, or hiring committee, but you can’t necessarily rely on that information. Like all humans, they have their biases and blind spots, and they may be unaware of behind-the-scenes dynamics, like employees who are feuding, or those who exert disproportionate political influence within the department or team.

Before going “on the record” with your agenda (“We’re going to close the Tokyo office”), it’s important to meet both individually and as a group with your new colleagues and employees to suss out potential pitfalls (the head of the Tokyo office is close with a powerful customer), uncover new options, or identify potential allies who share your philosophy. You can ask open-ended questions such as:

  • What do you think we’re doing really well?
  • What do you think we could improve?
  • If you could change anything about your job, or about how we do business, what would it be?

You may end up making the exact changes you envisioned at the outset. But at a minimum, you’ll be more aware of risks and in a better position to mitigate them — and to the extent that your new team shares your vision, you can position yourself as a change agent acting on their behalf, rather than a wrecking ball coming in from outside.

Recognize that a mandate for change has limits.

This is a particular trap for new, high-level leaders. You may have been brought in with the understanding that the previous regime was broken, and it’s your job to fix it. To please the board or the CEO, you “hit the ground running” by firing or reshuffling personnel, launching new initiatives, and jettisoning old ones — exactly what you’ve been told to do.

But it’s quite possible that your peers and employees don’t share the decision-makers’ bleak assessment, and they may be offended by the idea that their work needs “cleaning up.” They may rebel against you, either directly or via passive-aggressive compliance, or back-channel complaints to leadership. The board or CEO will support you for a while, but if the din gets too loud, they may decide backing you isn’t worth the political capital. Indeed, I once coached a high-level executive who successfully implemented the change agenda he’d been given, but whose job was in peril because he’d alienated his team badly in the process.

Identify a “cultural mentor.”

Just as you might when taking an overseas posting, look for a cultural mentor who can help you interpret and navigate the implicit codes of your new environment. Look for someone who has a deep understanding of the corporate terrain, wants you to succeed, and doesn’t have an overt political agenda that could cloud their perspective or cause them to give you biased information. Possibilities might include former company employees that you know through social or professional circles, or respected colleagues in other offices or departments.

Control your narrative.

If your new corporate culture is vastly different, it’s inevitable that you’ll trip up at some point: Your feedback at the pitch meeting will come across as way too harsh, or your team will complain you didn’t consult them sufficiently, or the working group will move too slowly because they didn’t realize you were serious about the project being a priority.

Of course, some of this is a matter of personality quirks and leadership style — but they get magnified when you enter a culture that, as a whole, operates much differently than you’ve come to expect. If you’ve come from a hard-charging environment and act accordingly, you run the risk of being pigeonholed as “overly aggressive,” and if your last job emphasized consensus and collective agreement, you may be tarred as too “kumbaya” to get results.

If you feel you’re being misunderstood or that your intentions aren’t coming through clearly, point out the cultural difference, which is likely invisible to your new colleagues (like the fish who asks “what’s water?”). “I’m sorry if my feedback came across as too harsh,” you could say. “That was a common way of expressing things at my last company, but I’ve come to understand it may not be the most effective strategy here. I’m going to take note of that for the future.”

As long as you don’t act like you’re complaining, or negatively comparing your new workplace to the old one, people will often cut you some slack as you adjust. The key is observing those nuances carefully and ensuring you don’t repeat your mistakes.

We often assume that if we’re successful at one company, that will automatically translate to another. But even small cultural differences can add up and create a cascade of misunderstanding, damaging your ability to succeed at your new job. By following these strategies, you can pick up on subtle cultural codes faster and ensure a smoother transition.

Should You Go to Graduate School?

Although the rich world is enjoying a long spell of unprecedented job growth and low unemployment, competition for the most competitive roles remains fierce. Tech companies like Google and Microsoft reportedly receive two million applications per year, and banks like Goldman Sachs attract in the thousands.

While these employers, among a growing number of others, are unanimously highlighting the importance of critical soft skills — such as emotional intelligence, resilience, and learnability — as determinants of performance, the most in-demand jobs require graduate credentials, to the point of surpassing current levels of supply. Consider, for example, that there are around 500,000 open IT jobs, but only 50,000 new IT graduates each year.

At the same time, the number of people enrolling in university continues to rise, effectively devaluating the undergraduate degree. In America, one-third of adults are college graduates, a figure that was just 4.6% in the 1940s. Globally, UNESCO reports that the number of students earning a university degree has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

In light of these figures, it is easy to understand why more and more of the workforce is considering going to graduate school. In the U.S., the number of graduate students has tripled since the 1970s, and according to some estimates, 27% of employers now require master’s degrees for roles in which historically undergraduate degrees sufficed.

What, then, are the motives you should be considering if you are trying to decide whether or not to enroll? How can you determine if the time — and especially the money — required to pursue a graduate education will actually pay off or not? Here are some factors to consider:

Reasons You Should Go to Grad School

1. To bump up your salary potential.
It’s no secret that people who have graduate school degrees are generally paid more money than those who don’t. While a 25% increase in earnings is the average boost people see, attending the top MBA programs can increase your salary by as much as 60-150% (whereas a masters in Human Services or Museum Sciences will increase your earnings by a mere 10-15%).

2. To set a career change in motion.
AI and automation are replacing many roles with others and a growing proportion of workers are being pushed to reskill and upskill to remain relevant. There’s no doubt that most of us will have to reinvent ourselves at some point if we want to do the same. If you find yourself in this situation currently, grad school may not be a bad choice. The bigger challenge, however, will be picking what to major in. If you set yourself up to be a strong candidate for jobs that are in high demand, you risk being too late to the game by the time you graduate. For instance, if everyone studies data science in order to fill unfilled vacancies, in a few years there will be a surplus of candidates. A better strategy is do your research and try to predict what the in-demand roles will be in the future. Universities can actually help you here. Increasingly, formal study qualifications are being indexed according to the foundational, or soft skills, they require. This means that more graduate programs are starting to teach soft skills, in addition to knowledge, and prepare students for an uncertain labor market rather than for specific jobs.

3. To follow your passion.
It’s not uncommon for people to get stuck in the wrong job as a result of poor career guidance or a lack of self-awareness at a young age — i.e. failing to know their interests and potential when they began their careers. This leads to low levels of engagement, performance, and productivity, and high levels of burnout, stress, and alienation. Pursuing your passion, therefore, is not a bad criterion for deciding to go to grad school. After all, people perform better and learn more when their studies align with their values. If you can nurture your curiosity and interests by pursuing rigorous learning, your expertise will be more likely to set you apart from other candidates, and increase the chances of ending up in a job you love. Note that even robots and AI are being programmed to emulate this free-floating aspect of human curiosity in order to match human’s capacity for autonomous and self-directed learning.

Reasons You Should Not Go to Grad School

1. You can learn for free (or for much less money). There is a plethora of content — books, videos, podcasts, and more — that are now widely available, at no cost, to the general public. Arguably, much of this free content mirrors (or actually is) the material students are studying in grad school programs. Therefore, if you want a master’s degree simply to gain more knowledge, it’s important to recognize that it is possible to recreate learning experiences without paying thousands of dollars for a class. Consider all the things you can learn just by watching YouTube, assuming you have the discipline and self-control to focus: coding, digital drawing, UX design, video editing, and more. Other platforms, such as Udemy and Coursera can be used to upskill at a more affordable cost than attending a degree program. Essentially, if your goal is to acquire a new skill, and that skill can be taught, it is hard to compete with platforms where experts can crowdsource, teach, and share content.

2. You may be wasting your time. Historically, people have mostly learned by doing — and there is a big difference between communicating the theoretical experience of something and actually going through that experience. This is a truth that can’t be changed by a graduate (or undergraduate) education. In fact, most Fortune 500 firms end up investing substantially to reskill and upskill new hires, regardless of their credentials. For instance, employers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft all pointed out that learnability — having a hungry mind and being a fast and passionate learner — is more important than having acquired certain expertise in college. Along the same lines, many employers complain that even the best performing graduates will need to learn the most relevant job skills, such as leadership and self-management, after they start their jobs. Oddly, this does not stop employers from paying a premium for college qualifications, including graduate credentials.

3. You will probably go into debt. For some grad school programs the ROI is clear, but there’s a great deal of variability. It can be challenging to find a program that is certain to boost your income in the short run, particularly if you also want to study something you love. For example, an MBA, which remains the most popular choice of grad school program in the U.S., is more likely to increase your earning potential than a master’s in climate change. But if your true passion is climate change, you may end up excelling and having a more lucrative long-term career, but struggle financially in the short term. All this to say, if you’re not committed to the subject you’re studying enough to go into debt for a few years, the risk probably isn’t worth the degree.

What is discouraging is that this dilemma would not be a problem at all if:

  • Employers started to pay more attention to factors other than a candidate’s college degree or formal credentials
  • Universities devoted more time to teaching soft skills (and got better at it)
  • Universities focused on nurturing a sense of curiosity, which would be a long-term indicator of people’s career potential, even for jobs they have never done before

The problem is that most people would probably prefer the qualifications of a graduate degree without the underlying experience and education, to the actual experience and education without the formal qualifications that follow. What is actually valued are the consequences of having a degree, rather than the degree itself. Assuming the recent trend to buy more and more formal education continues, eventually we can assume that graduate credentials won’t be enough for candidates to gain a true competitive advantage. Just like the value of a master’s degree is equivalent to the value of an undergraduate degree 30 years ago, if in 30 years a large proportion of the workforce obtains a master’s, or PhD, employers may finally be forced to look at talent and potential beyond formal qualifications.

It seems, then, that the decision to go or not to go to grad school is as complex as uncertain, for there are no clear-cut arguments in favor of it or against it. To be sure, it is not easy to predict what the ROI of grad school will be, though the factors outlined here may help you assess your own individual circumstances. Like any big decision in life, this one requires a fair amount of courage and risk taking. In the words of Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist who pioneered the modern study of decision making under uncertainty: “Courage is willingness to take the risk once you know the odds. Optimistic overconfidence means you are taking the risk because you don’t know the odds. It’s a big difference.”

Building an Unstoppable Brand

Today, the world has more small businesses and “wannapreneurs” than ever. Anyone with a mobile phone can launch an Instagram page and claim they are a brand. There’s more noise than there’s ever been, and no time in history where it’s harder to stand out. Which is why building a recognizable and respected brand is so critical today if you want to succeed.

We asked Gary Vaynerchuk and eight other master brand builders and Advisors in The Oracles for their best advice on the topic. Here’s what they said.

1. Create valuable content that is uniquely you.

You don’t want to be in the business of selling; you want people to come to you. Your personal or company brand is what makes that happen, which is why it’s the single most important asset in your business. To build a strong brand, create content that brings value to your customers. The intention behind the content is imperative. If you’re creating it just to sell something, people will instinctively know.

Don’t worry about being perfect. Just be yourself. Focus on becoming the voice of your industry and helping your clients. Listen to their problems and address them. Then amplify your content with ads. You probably won’t be able to directly monetize it immediately, and that’s OK. You’re building a brand. And remember: It’s not about likes or followers — it’s about business results. —Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerX; five-time New York Times bestselling author of “Crushing It!”

2. Tell a story.

Start by solving a problem. If it’s personal to you, even better. Storytelling is also key. Share your story in a way that others can relate to. Ensure you’re driven by passion and purpose and that your mission is clear, then stick to that mission no matter what. You also have to be ready to work really hard, no matter how good your idea is or how easy it looks. Results won’t come instantly and will probably take longer than you think. Stick with it. —Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Inc.; creator of The Kara Network, a digital resource for entrepreneurs; and host of the “Unstoppable” podcast.

3. Get customers first.

Don’t spend much time planning the perfect brand. Instead, first, start selling and building a customer base. Talk with your customers, even if it’s just via email or surveys, to find out what they like, what they don’t, and why they bought from you. Then adjust your branding and messaging to resonate with others like them.

For example, take one of our members, Devin Dorosh, whose brand just made the Inc. 5000 list. When he started Grillaholics, he didn’t go through a massive branding exercise. Instead, he launched a product, made sales, and created his brand organically as he learned about his customers. Selling more to your existing customers is the best way to grow sales. So before you launch a new product, ask yourself whether your current customers will buy it. If not, create a different one. —Matt Clark, co-founder and chairman of Amazing.com and co-creator of Amazing Selling Machine.

4. Solve a problem. 

To build a sustainable, long-term business, you must see your customer as your most valuable asset, not your bottom line. When you switch your focus from increasing profit margins (taking) to providing value to your customers (giving), they will want to continue buying from you. Your worth is directly proportional to the value you provide, whether that’s through information that improves their lives or products that solve a problem. To earn more from your personal or consumer brand, you must be more valuable. At its core, business is simple: identify a problem and offer a solution. That’s what people are willing to give up their hard-earned money for.

To be successful, you must do what others aren’t willing to. Stop wasting hours on Netflix, swiping on Instagram, and partying every weekend, which won’t yield a positive return on the time you’re investing. Spend your time thinking about how to become more valuable, and you’ll start earning more. —Jose Zuniga, the 24-year-old co-founder of ESNTLS men’s fashion empire

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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Alumni Network

Almost every professional knows it’s a good idea to leverage your alumni network. After all, attending the same college or graduate program gives you a shared history — and that commonality is a great excuse to connect with other interesting, accomplished people. But in practice, it’s more difficult. Beyond staying in touch with your pre-existing friend group, how can you build relationships with other alumni without it seeming awkward or transactional?

In my book Stand Out, I write extensively about how to expand your professional network, including through alumni connections. Here are three strategies my readers and coaching clients have found most useful.

First, there’s a basic step a shocking number of professionals overlook: provide an annual update to your alumni magazine’s class notes column. This serves three purposes. First, it makes you findable by other alumni in similar fields or with related interests. (This is especially important if you’ve gotten married or otherwise changed your name post-graduation.) If you’re launching a startup, for instance, a short update might well pique the interest of a fellow alum who’s now a VC. Second, it provides an easy opportunity for existing contacts with whom you’ve fallen out of touch — so-called “dormant ties” — to reach out again. These connections can be quite powerful, because you have the sense of familiarity and trust born of a long history, but your careers may have taken unexpected directions that have suddenly become relevant. Third, the most avid readers of alumni magazines are – not surprisingly – the alumni office of your institution. Their primary goal is fundraising, of course, so if you’ve experienced great success, you may find yourself on their prospect list. But it’s also in their interest to promote their relationship with illustrious graduates, so staying on their radar means the possibility of getting tapped for awards, special committees, or even delivering a commencement address.

Another important way to leverage your alumni network is to volunteer for a role that gives you an excuse to be in touch with other classmates. Marketing consultant Robbie Kellman Baxter, whom I profiled in Stand Out, doubled down on her business school alumni connections through a variety of strategies, including serving as a class reunion chair and launching an alumni breakfast speaker series in her region.

Those activities not only exposed other alumni to her name — she’d introduce the speakers at events, and send emails promoting upcoming activities — but gave her a reason to proactively reach out to people she’d like to meet (“are you planning to join us at reunion?” or “would you like to be next month’s featured speaker?”). Her commitment and stewardship built trust, and eventually, more than half of her business came from fellow grads. Universities are eager for graduates to serve on a variety of committees, because they know that alumni are more likely to respond to an invitation from a peer, rather than, say, a development staffer. If you’re unsure where to start, you can contact your alumni office and ask about opportunities to serve.

Finally, another great way to tap alumni connections is to share your professional expertise. Universities are desperate to keep their alumni connected, so they strive to offer resources that add value throughout one’s career. Alumni offices will frequently host professional development webinars; you could volunteer to lead one, exposing hundreds or even thousands of fellow graduates to your expertise (even those who don’t attend will receive promotional messages featuring your name and bio).

You could also offer to give a talk to your local alumni group, or serve on a panel as needed. When one of my books was released, I spoke to about 50 attendees at the home of a high-profile alumna with whom I’ve subsequently become friends. And once you’ve broken in one with club, you can often leverage that into additional speaking opportunities. Alumni club presidents are frequently connected with one another, and share recommendations for speakers. When I spoke for one alumni club in Charlotte, the former president proactively suggested that if I were traveling to other cities — including international destinations — he’d be pleased to help me secure other engagements.

It makes all the sense in the world to invest in cultivating your alumni network. Yet many professionals don’t make the time, or are unsure how to proceed. By following the strategies above, you can deepen your ties to fellow alums in a way that feels natural and comfortable – while creating the possibility for meaningful new business opportunities.

5 Mental Mistakes That Kill Your Productivity

It’s common to feel as if you’ve been busy but haven’t done anything important. Of course, life isn’t about being a productivity robot in which every second is optimized. But most of us do want to feel well-organized and efficient in pursuing key goals and solving critical problems. A good first step is to understand the mental mistakes that typically prevent us from focusing on and finishing meaningful work.  Here are five common ones:

1. You overestimate how much focused time you have in a typical day.

Long-term creative projects, strategic thinking, and skill- and relationship-building require big blocks of concentrated attention. It’s easy to optimistically think you’ve got all day, or even several hours, for that type of work and subsequently plan your priorities based on that assumption. However, for many of us, meetings, email, Slack, phone calls, and “quick questions” take up a considerable portion of our time in the office. Aggregated data from the time-tracking app RescueTime suggests that people have as little as one hour and 12 minutes of uninterrupted time in their day.

If you acknowledge the limited time you’ll have for focused work, you can more ruthlessly select your absolute top priority and protect yourself from distractions for certain periods. When you do have 60 to 90 minutes available, try to focus on your bigger-picture goals (as tempting as it might be to focus on more time-sensitive routine work). Remember, too, that even those complex and important projects usually have some admin tasks associated with them (e.g., hunting down a reference when writing a book) that don’t require as much focus or creativity. As a workaround for having limited time for the harder work, identify those to-dos and slot them into that spare 15 minutes you have between meetings or those longer free periods during which you suspect there will be interruptions.

2. You overlook proven, sustainable methods that seem too boring or too simple.

If you consume a lot of productivity self-help material, you’re probably familiar with many core concepts from cognitive-behavioral psychology. For instance, if you form “implementation intentions” you’re more likely to follow through. This involves planning when and where you’ll do a task and how you’ll overcome obstacles you’ll encounter. Likewise, you might’ve previously read about how shrinking the number of decisions you make in a day will reduce your mental fatigue and improve your willpower. And, you might know that when you make any task easier, for example by ensuring you have the needed materials on hand, you’re more likely to begin. However, once we’ve heard these principles, we often write them off as “old news” even when we haven’t fully implemented them or tried them at all.

For each of your important projects, have your next action defined and everything you need to complete it handy and ready to go. For instance, if you want to video yourself rehearsing a big speech, set up the space you plan to use, do a test recording for a minute, and make sure you have enough free space on your recording device. If you remove these types of practical barriers to getting started, they won’t eat into your focused time.

If you like to see yourself as a special or unique individual, you might find that simple solutions don’t sit well with that, since you don’t like to see yourself as being like everyone else. This is a trap. Make sure you’re employing boring, but easy and proven-to-work, strategies in all the ways you could be. Get better at creatively applying simple ideas rather than searching for complex ones.

3. You think about change in an all-or-nothing way.

We often suspect that a certain habit change would help our productivity but feel psychologically resistant to doing it. For instance, you might believe that getting more sleep would help your productivity but you’re a night owl and bristle at advice about going to bed early. Instead of perseverating on what you feel resistant to, look for changes you’re willing to make that don’t feel like a big deal. Automating your house lights to dim (or turn red), using blue light filters on your devices, or spending the last 30 minutes of your work day planning the following day (creating a transition), might help you effortlessly shift the time you want to go to sleep 10-15 minutes earlier. However, if you think you have to make a two-hour change to your bedtime or nothing, or you’re only focused on the fact you don’t want to give up sleeping with your phone, you won’t make any changes at all. Collect the easy wins that don’t trigger your psychological resistance. When you successfully make a low-key change, your willingness to make other changes will probably naturally expand.

4. You forget how to do recurrent but infrequent tasks.

If you do a task daily, you likely have an efficient process for getting it done. If you do it once or a few times a year, you might not. In The Healthy Mind Toolkit, I wrote about how every time I needed to clean my printer drum, I would spend at least 10 minutes finding the instructions online for how to do it. Now I have those instructions saved in an email to myself under the subject line “how to clean printer drum” so I no longer have to go through all the steps of finding my printer’s model number and Googling it.

After you’ve finished any process that you’ll need to repeat in the future, write yourself instructions for the most efficient way to do it and save those in an easily searchable place.

5. You underestimate the costs of small time/energy leaks.

Spending a little bit of time most days on your important but not urgent big-picture projects and/or improving your skills is often enough to dramatically enhance your overall outcomes compared with spending no time. On the flip side, small time and energy leaks can have a bigger negative impact than people perceive. That ten minutes you spend searching for keys or responding to an email that didn’t need an immediate reply, is inconsequential in and of itself. However, many of these instances can disrupt your flow, reinforce a negative sense of identity, and generally sap your energy. When you create systems (e.g., reducing unnecessary decisions, streamlining and simplifying tasks, batching, automating, outsourcing, or using checklists) that address small time/energy leaks, you’ll experience mental clarity benefits from doing so that far outstrip the time savings.

While the tips in this article won’t solve all your productivity problems, they can give you a better shot at getting the most important things done.

4 Ways to Create Content Your Digital Audience Can’t Help But Consume

These days, regardless of what industry you’re in, the best way to reach your audience is through digital content. The 2019 Q3 Global Digital Statshot report from Hootsuite and We Are Social perfectly illustrates just how big of a role digital content now plays in our lives. More than 4 billion people watch online videos on a monthly basis. Of those, more than half are watching vlogs. Approximately 39 percent of internet users now listen to podcasts.

Even once-traditional forms of media are now seeing an uptick in digital consumption. For example, Statista reports that The New York Times exceeded 2.8 million digital subscribers in early 2018. For marketers, there also remains considerable value in blogging. Of course, with so much media out there, it is easy for your own content to get lost in the mix.

That being said, there are a few tactics you can use to better reach and engage your audience:

1. Diversify your content offerings.

The more variety you can provide in the content you create, the better. Each member of your target audience is unique, and they may engage with the internet in different ways. Offering a variety of content increases your chances of reaching the entire group.

For example, a study from IDG noted that while over 60 percent of B2B marketers rely on case studies and white papers, other top content marketing options include webinars, videos and electronic newsletters. Even varying your blog content by adding infographics and other visual content can help make it more engaging and interesting to your audience.

2. Become a storyteller.

We are naturally drawn to stories — even in content designed for marketing purposes. Whether you’re sharing a personal experience or using a case study to make your point, telling an engaging story builds trust and engagement.

The story doesn’t just make your content more engaging, it also makes it easier to remember, which can pay big dividends in keeping your brand relevant. Use your brand’s mission and vision to help guide the types of stories you will tell when you create content.

3. Get personal when you create content.

There is much to be said for the value of personalization, particularly when trying to nurture a lead in industries that have a longer sales process. By giving your audience something that has been tailored specifically to them, you can form a more powerful connection that fosters continual engagement.

Click Read More for the final tip.

How to Look and Sound Confident During a Presentation


You’ve crafted the message and created the slides for your next presentation. Now it’s time to wow the audience. How you look and sound are going to make a big impression — and your audience will form opinions quickly.

Research shows that people form impressions about a leader’s competence in as little as half a minute. This means, within seconds, listeners will decide whether you are trustworthy, and they will do it based on your body language and vocal attributes. What you say and how you say it are equally important.

The good news is that there is plenty of hard evidence that explains how you can give the appearance of confidence and competence — even if you’re nervous or timid on the inside.

How to Look Confident

Make eye contact. Making eye contact is the first step to building trust with your listeners. “Eyes play a key role in human social encounters,” according to one research report. “When humans observe others’ faces, eyes are typically the first features that are scanned for information.”

There’s a simple way to get better at this, but it takes a little work: Record yourself practicing your presentation in front of a small audience. Watch the recording, noting all of the times you look at your slides instead of at your audience. Practice, and record again. Every time you do, try to spend less time talking to the slides and more time making eye contact with your listeners. Rehearse until you have the presentation down cold.

Keep an open posture. Open posture means that there’s no barrier between you and the audience. This includes your arms. An uncomfortable speaker might unconsciously cross their arms, forming a defensive pose without being aware that they’re doing it. Confident speakers, by contrast, keep their arms uncrossed with their palms turned up.

But your hands and arms are just one barrier. There are others to eliminate.

A lectern is a barrier. Stand away from it. A laptop between you and your listener is a barrier. Set it to the side. If you keep your hands in your pockets, take them out. An open posture takes up more space and makes you feel more confident. If you feel confident, you’ll look confident.

Use gestures. Confident speakers use gestures to reinforce their key points. One study found that entrepreneurs pitching investors were more persuasive when they used a combination of figurative language (stories, metaphors) and gestures to emphasize their message.

Find areas of your presentation where gestures will come across as natural, and use them to highlight key points or emphasize a concept. If you’re listing a number of items, use your fingers to count them off. If you’re talking about something that’s wide or expansive, stretch your arms and hands apart. One analysis of popular TED speakers, like Brené Brown and Tony Robbins, found that they tend to bring their hands to their heart when sharing personal stories. Your gestures will reflect your feeling toward the topic you’re discussing and invite the audience to engage with you on a deeper, emotional level.

How to Sound Confident

Eliminate filler words. Avoid words that serve no purpose except to fill the space between sentences. These are words like umahlike, and the dreaded, you know? Excessive filler words can be irritating to listeners, and make speakers sound unsure of themselves. Eliminating them is also one of the simplest habits to fix.

Start by studying the verbal delivery of sports commentators. The ones who are at the top of their game rarely use filler words. Instead, before speaking, they think about what they want to communicate next, and deliver their comments precisely and concisely. Listen to Jim Nantz calling a golf event, Bob Costas calling the Olympics, or Al Michaels calling a football game for great examples. After years of practice, these announcers have become skilled at delivering just the words they want you to hear.

How did they get there? By spending hours in front of the television, reviewing videos of their performances.

Use this same strategy. Turn on the video or microphone of your smartphone and record yourself presenting. Play it back. Your goal is to gain awareness around the filler words you use most. Write them down, and practice again. When you catch yourself about to use one, err on silence instead to develop a smoother, polished delivery.

Take time to pause. Most people use filler words because they’re afraid of silence. It takes confidence to use dramatic pauses. A pause is like the period in a written sentence. It gives your audience a break between thoughts.

A recent story in the New York Times, for example, calls attention to the silence in between notes of a classical music piece, explaining why short pauses draw so much attention. As social beings, we are hard-wired to pay attention to breaks in the flow of communication. “We recognize the pregnant pause, the stunned silence, the expectant hush,” the author writes. “A one-beat delay on an answer can reveal hesitation or hurt, or play us for laughs.”

Pauses are interpreted as eloquence — in music and in public speech. A simple way to learn the power of the pause is to choose one or two phrases in your next presentation that express the key message you want to leave your audience with. Pause before you deliver those lines. For example, “The most important thing I’d like you to remember is this…” Pause for two beats before you complete the sentence. Whatever you say next will be instantly memorable.

Vary your pace. Confident speakers vary the pace of their verbal delivery. They slow down and speed up to accentuate their most important points.

Audiobooks are recorded at a moderate pace of 150 to 160 words per minute. It’s slow enough to be understood, but not so fast that the listener has a hard time keeping up. TED speakers, similarly, speak around 163 words per minute, right in the sweet spot.

But here’s the trick. The best speakers speed up to around 220 words a minute when they want to embellish a certain story detail and keep listeners engaged. When they want to accentuate a certain message, they pause, then deliver their words at a slower pace.

Take TED speaker and human rights attorney, Bryan Stevenson. He delivered a presentation that earned the longest standing ovation in TED history. Stevenson is a masterful public speaker. He constantly varies his pace to keep the audience riveted. In one anecdote about meeting civil rights hero, Rosa Parks, Stevenson sped up when he rattled off a long list of what his non-profit intended to accomplish.

I began giving her my rap. I said, “Well, we’re trying to challenge injustice. We’re trying to help people who have been wrongly convicted. We’re trying to confront bias and discrimination in the administration of criminal justice. We’re trying to end life without parole sentences for children. We’re trying to do something about the death penalty. We’re trying to reduce the prison population. We’re trying to end mass incarceration.”

Stevenson then dramatically slowed down the pace of his speech to deliver Park’s response: “She looked at me and she said, Mmm mmm mmm. That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.”

The audience laughed, touched by the story. Stevenson’s varied and controlled delivery made a story that could have been dry and predictable, poignant and humorous. He never leaves his delivery to chance.

How can you master this skill? Let the story you are trying to tell guide you. Don’t force it, but if there’s a part in your presentation or speech where it makes sense to rattle off a series of words or sentences — perhaps a section in which you need to run through a list of details — try speeding it up. Then, slow it down as you approach your main point.

It’s the rare presenter who’s mastered all six principles of confident speaking. In fact, many speakers are unaware of them. Now that you know the secrets to looking confident in front of a crowd — practice, practice, practice. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes more time than you expect. Some of these tactics will take a couple of run-throughs to get right, while others — like pacing — require hours of work and advanced delivery skills to nail down. Keep at it. There is nothing more influential than the power of your presence matching the power of your ideas.

The 5 Things That Matter More Than Making Money

Some things are more important than money and ignoring them will make your money worthless. Here are the top five things that should take priority over the dollar in your day-to-day.

1. Your faith 

This isn’t religious faith, although that can be part of it. The faith I’m talking about is the faith you have in yourself, your dream and your business. Without this faith, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is.

I’ve seen doubt destroy businesses that could have changed the world. It almost got me. When it feels like everyone you trust is out to get you, it’s hard to keep the faith. 

But the moment you lose faith in your business, think your dream is a bit much or believe someone else would do things better, you’re done. You might as well quit and go work for someone else — someone who oozes faith.

Prefer to do things your way? You have to believe in yourself and every aspect of your business. Sure, you’ll make tweaks to how you do things, but you’ll do it because you believe in what you’re doing and want to do it better.

2. Your health

As an entrepreneur, you spend more waking hours thinking about your business than anyone else. If something goes south, it’s on your shoulders. This can be dangerous. It can lead you to think that if you’re not working on your business all day, every day, the business will fail. 

Trust your people. Let them do their jobs and then go do yours. Make sure the business is strong. Research new ways to make it stronger. Get feedback from your team and put a game plan in place. 

All the while, watch what you eat. Keep an eye on your waistline. Get to the gym or keep playing your favorite sport. A strong, sharp mind demands a strong, sharp body, so push it hard. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder. Just set goals, reach them, then set new ones. It’ll train you to do the same with your business. 

Not feeling the best? Be proactive and go to the doctor. Your business needs the best possible you. That means taking care of yourself so you can think clearly and lead your team into a future full of success.

3. Your family

You want to give your kids a better life than you had growing up. But hunting for another dollar when you should be at home could cost you your family. Most people wish they could spoil their spouse and kids, but what your family really wants is you. 

Being there for them might mean you’re up so early that half of your workday is done before anyone else wakes up. That way by the time five o’clock strikes, you’re already back home.

If you’re spending all night at the office when your family is waiting for you, it’s not because you’re a hard worker. It’s because you suck at time management, productivity and setting boundaries. When you dial in your habits and become a true high performer, you make more money and have more time for your family.

4. Your experiences

You live once, then you die. There’s no way around it. Sitting in an office all day, every day makes no sense. You became the boss so you could live life to the fullest, so live it.

Be spontaneous. Take opportunities to travel. Meet a celebrity who happens to be passing through town. You can impress some people with your bank account, but memories and stories of life experiences enrich your life and engage people in ways money can’t.

As an added bonus, life experiences do more than give you good stories. They give you good ideas. They shape the way you see the world. They can shake you up enough to have breakthroughs and solve a problem at work that’s plagued you for months. 

5. Your legacy

After you’re dead and gone, your legacy is the only thing that’s going to stick with people. You can leave a pile of money to your loved ones, but it’s who you were while you lived that will impact them.

Put as much time and energy into your legacy as your business. If you want to be remembered for bringing value and joy to the world, you have to do more than stare at your bank account. 

Make people your priority. Treat them with kindness and compassion. Give generously to the charities close to your heart. Listen when someone needs to talk.

You won’t wish you’d done things differently. You won’t fear what people will say about you when you’re gone. You’ll be content knowing you put the interest of others first, both in your daily life and in your business ventures. That is a legacy anyone would want.

Money makes it easier to take care of your health, legacy and family. It opens the door to experiences and helps you keep your faith alive. However, money can’t replace any of these things, so don’t look at money for your satisfaction. Work hard to earn enormous amounts of cash, then use it to live a great life!

Why Reverse Mentoring Works and How to Do It Right

When Mark Tibergien, CEO of Advisor Solutions, thought about the future of BNY-Mellon/Pershing, he knew the company had a problem. Millennials were uninterested in working in financial services. In addition, Millennials who did join the company were leaving the company at higher rates than their older peers.

Like BNY-Mellon/Pershing, many companies struggle with how to retain Millennial talent – and also with how to stay relevant to younger consumers. In response to these challenges, leadership teams of major companies around the world are implementing reverse-mentoring programs. Reverse mentoring pairs younger employees with executive team members to mentor them on various topics of strategic and cultural relevance. This approach has precedent: in the late 1990s, GE’s Jack Welsh used reverse mentoring to teach senior executives about the internet. But modern reverse mentoring extends far beyond just sharing knowledge about technology; today’s programs focus on how senior executives think about strategic issues, leadership, and the mindset with which they approach their work. Describing the primary issues that she mentored on, Kayla Kennelly (one of the original mentors at BNY-Mellon|Pershing) stated: “The top of [Mark Tibergien’s] list was, ‘How do I connect with the younger generation?’… And then, ‘How do I attract and retain younger talent?’ Technology has been important but it has  been pretty much at the bottom of many of the mentors/mentees lists.”

In our research, we found four main benefits of reverse-mentoring programs.

Increased retention of Millennials.Reverse-mentoring programs provide Millennials with the transparency and recognition that they’re seeking from management. According to Gerry Tamburro, former managing director at BNY-Mellon|Pershing, who was both a mentee and a founder of the company’s program, “This [program] helped the executive committee not only to be more transparent but to also seek input from people throughout the organization on many decisions.” The former CEO of BNY-Mellon|Pershing, Ron DeChicco, and his Millennial mentor, Jamilynn Camino, co-developed fireside chats to increase the CEO’s connection with employees. In these chats, which ran for over three years and were the most highly attended company event, DeChicco discussed critical issues and solicited employee feedback. BNY-Mellon|Pershing experienced a 96% retention rate for the first cohort of Millennial mentors.

Sharing of digital skills. While digital skill development should not be the focus of a reverse-mentoring program, many of the companies we researched mentioned that it was a meaningful part of the relationship. For example, the current CEO of BNY-Mellon|Pershing (then COO) used his mentor to help him with social media, which he had never before integrated into his working life. Now, he is one of the most avid social-media users inside the company. As Cimino stated, “Jim [Crowley] has totally shifted the way he interacts and communicates with employees… Jim is incredibly active on [our internal social media platform]. [He] is also active representing the company [on LinkedIn], which he never was before this program.”

Driving culture change. As Estée Lauder’s CEO, Fabrizio Freda, noted, the company “had come to a place where the future could not be informed by the past” and therefore decided to implement a reverse mentoring program. Besides educating senior executives on the importance of social media influencers for the overall shopping experience, Millennial mentors developed Dreamspace, a knowledge-sharing portal to exchange ideas. Estée Lauder distributed bi-monthly alerts to employees, including the executive leadership team, on the leading topics discussed on Dreamspace. Kennelly of BNY-Mellon|Pershing told us that she and her mentee had discussed why young people weren’t attracted to the financial services profession. “He asked me to research this question. I came back with three reasons, including a general distrust of the industry, negative portrayal of the industry in media, and misperception that the profession was only about sales. He then used these reasons in shaping the recruitment strategy.”

Promoting diversity. The global law firm Linklaters piloted a reverse-mentoring program in order to improve leadership’s understanding of minority issues, including those of LGBT and ethnic minorities. And in 2014, PricewaterhouseCoopers launched its reverse-mentoring program as part of its drive for diversity and inclusion. The program now has 122 Millennials mentoring 200 partners and directors worldwide.

Program organizers should consider the following four points, which we found to be critical to realizing the benefits of reverse mentoring:

The right match is crucial. First, emphasize diversity, matching across region, department, and location. Also match for diverse personalities (e.g., it is better to have an introvert paired with an extravert than to pair two introverts). Second, consult mentees before making the pairing formal. While most Millennial mentors accepted any pairing (as long as the mentee was committed), executive mentees were more selective, as they were concerned about crossing supervisory lines and any appearance of conflict of interest.

Address mentees’ fear and distrust. Many executives are fearful of revealing their lack of knowledge to junior employees. But if the fears are addressed explicitly, open sharing can be incredibly rewarding. At BNY-Mellon|Pershing, these concerns were part of the early discussions within the mentor-mentee community. As Crowley stated, “You know you are exposing yourself, you are exposing your vulnerabilities and… I think that that helps actually strengthen the bond between the two of you and it’s not a bad thing.” Many mentees are also fearful of junior employees sharing sensitive information with co-workers. However, in all the companies we studied, breach of confidentiality was never a problem that we could discern.

Ensure strong commitment from the mentees. The number one reason that reverse-mentoring programs fail is that the executives don’t prioritize the relationship; after a couple of cancelled sessions, the momentum quickly dwindles. But it’s the Millennial mentors who should drive the program through sharing best practices, helping to select new cohorts, and training mentors. Research shows that without training, only one-third of mentor-mentee relationships succeed, which increases to two-thirds with training. In the companies we studied, training included preparing new mentors for how to structure successful sessions with their mentees and to share challenges faced in the relationships.

Don’t mix a shadow board and reverse-mentoring program. In June, we wrote about another method for integrating Millennials into the organization – shadow boards. Some companies we studied tried to introduce both programs within a single cohort. This led to one or the other winning out; they were never simultaneously successful. Companies wanting to run a shadow board and reverse-mentoring program at the same time can perhaps follow Estée Lauder’s example by using different participants for each program.

Harnessing the Power of Positive Thinking to Grow Your Business

Whether you realize it or not, the negative experiences you’ve lived through often influence your decisions. Your brain learns from difficult situations and painful memories, and these experiences get sealed into your brain, which wants to do whatever it can to protect you by avoiding a recurrence of the negative experience. However, continually focusing on the negative can hinder our ability to find the positive and live a happy life.

Success is based on recognizing and going after opportunities as they present themselves — and that often requires having the inner fortitude to take a chance and navigate difficult waters. The more you exude positivity, the better your chances of finding lasting success and happiness. All it takes is a little training and focus to rewire your brain toward the positive. Here are some positivity tips you can practice:

Release your inner negativity 

If you allow yourself to dwell on the negative, habitual skepticism will run your life and influence your decisions. It’s hard, if not impossible, to build success when you’ve resigned yourself to negativity. The first step is to let your negativity go and focus on the affirmative. You can start doing this by deliberately and frequently centering your thoughts on things that make you happy. Stop letting negatives limit your potential and drag you down. Start consciously taking a different approach to your thinking. One simple tip is to spend a moment calming your mind when you’re feeling frazzled, stressed or distracted. Take a few deep breaths, and empty your mind of negative thoughts. Focus on filling your lungs with air. Now you’re ready for a positive reboot.

Retrain your brain 

Even after years of subconsciously focusing on the negative, it’s possible to retrain your brain to perceive and focus on the positive. The idea is to recognize and center your thoughts on the silver linings that are embedded in any negative situation. The first step is to start paying more attention to the flow of your thoughts. Is your brain preoccupied by constantly focusing on negative outcomes? Are you stuck in a loop of cynical thinking? Recognize that negative thinking isn’t going to support you in creating long-term success. You need a balanced mind as you decide on which opportunities are the best to take.

The next step is to retrain your brain to see positive patterns. Instead of scrutinizing a situation to spot the negatives, we need to teach our brains to redirect our thoughts and scan for the positives. One simple way to begin doing this is to scan for three daily positive things. Every day, make a list of three good things that happened to you and reflect on what caused them to happen. Focus on the little wins you have each day. and use those to empower and motivate yourself.

Pivot from negative thoughts 

Once you recognize that you’re caught in a continuous loop of negative reoccurring thoughts, it’s time to break free by pivoting. If you were to turn 180 degrees away from your antagonistic thinking, where would you find yourself? Focus on thinking about something from a positive perspective. Practice visualizing a more positive outcome. Then think about the steps you need to take to make that happen. If you tend to be anxious or apprehensive, pay attention to when you’re feeling that way. What causes those emotions? When you feel yourself slipping into a negative cycle of anxiety or worry, think about how you can reframe your thoughts into a more positive perspective. Find a confident and assertive alternative to a negative impulse. Once you develop the habit of pivoting toward the positive, your brain will become predisposed to doing so.

Pay it forward 

When we’re nice to others — when we engage in acts of kindness and make others feel good — we boost our own happiness. Even small acts that make others smile can bring us joy. Doing something nice is also a powerful way to halt a negativity loop. For instance, you may be feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting or stressed about a recent interaction with a colleague, and your usual pattern of thinking is to worry about it. Instead of fretting, try doing something compassionate for another person. You’ll find that taking a moment to do a small favor, buy someone a cup of coffee, or help a stranger out can give you a little boost. It’s like an instant shot of happiness. Use those positive feelings to channel your thinking into a positive pattern.

Bring positivity into the present 

To truly reprogram your mind to be more positive, you have to bring positivity into your everyday life. You have to focus on having a positive outlook in your present moment. You can do this through the practice of mindfulness, which is being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment. It’s about recognizing your emotions, what your body is sensing and what you’re thinking about, and allowing these sensations to occur without judging them.

You can then harness this awareness to redirect your thoughts. Once you get into the habit of mindfulness, you’re no longer allowing your subconscious mind to drive your decisions. You’re teaching your brain to sense when you’re slipping into negativity and take action toward the positive. It allows you to focus your thoughts and attention toward a more balanced and positive approach. To help redirect your thoughts, try writing down a list of questions you can ask yourself to bring positivity into your present moment:  

  • What can I feel grateful about right now?
  • What can I do right now that’s fun or gives me joy?
  • How can I demonstrate love or gratitude right now?
  • What is something I can do to surprise someone or give someone else happiness right now?

As you get into the habit of continually checking in with yourself and directing your thoughts toward the positive, it will eventually become second nature.

NFL veteran Vontae Davis quit the NFL midgame. Here’s what happened next

VONTAE DAVIS WAKES just after sunrise on a weekday in August and wonders how he’ll start the day. He has little on his schedule — a lunch meeting with his business partner and maybe some household chores — so he decides to spend his morning doing something familiar, a routine from his NFL playing days: logging an hour in his hyperbaric chamber.

He zips himself inside the pill-shaped device — an inflatable mattress meets sleeping bag — and breathes in the pure, compressed oxygen. To pass the time, Davis reads a business book on his Kindle. Today’s chapter is about CEOs — how whenever possible, they shy away from the spotlight. It’s of particular interest to Davis, who is now CEO of a soon-to-open holistic wellness spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

But the chapter resonates in a deeper way. It’s been almost a year since Davis stunned the sports world with one of the most bizarre retirements in history. With his Buffalo Bills down 28-6 minutes before halftime against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2, the 30-year-old two-time Pro Bowl cornerback removed himself from the game. Then he walked to the locker room, took off his jersey and drove home.

It was a confounding decision, one that thrust him into the national spotlight. Former teammates and fans called him a quitter. His brother, Vernon Davis, a 14-year NFL veteran, was heartbroken. Commentators and sportswriters questioned Vontae Davis’ mental health and made jokes on social media and talk shows.

Now, 11 months later, Davis emerges from the chamber. He’s wearing shorts branded with the logo of the Indianapolis Colts, with whom he spent six of his happiest football years. This is the first August since high school that he isn’t preparing for a season, and he admits it’s strange. He’s still in shape — 210 pounds, 5 shy of his playing weight. Just the other day, he posted a video of himself on his Instagram running shirtless on his Peloton, his muscles bouncing with every stride, prompting his followers to ask if he was readying a comeback. The thought made him laugh.

Vontae Davis doesn’t miss the NFL, and he doesn’t regret his decision to walk off the field.

“Most people, when I did what I did, they thought I was literally going insane or something,” he says. “But I was actually fine. I was totally fine.

“And I’m totally fine today.”

Click Read More for the full story.

What Makes a Successful Startup Team

But when it comes to evaluating the startup team, gut feel and intuition tend to be the main due diligence instruments that come into play. This isn’t a great approach. Data shows us that 60% of new ventures fail due to problems with the team.

What makes a successful startup team?

One common answer is that prior startup experience, product knowledge, and industry skills predict the success of a new venture. But is prior experience sufficient for a team to work well together? In a recent study of 95 new startup teams in the Netherlands, we explored that question.

We found that experience alone was not enough to make a team thrive. While experience broadens the teams’ resource pool, helps people identify opportunities, and is positively related to team effectiveness, a team also needs soft skills to truly thrive. Specifically, our study shows that shared entrepreneurial passion and shared strategic vision are required to get to superior team performance as rated by the external venture capital investors.

Of the startups we studied, the group that reported high levels of previous experience but average to low levels of passion and collective vision demonstrated weak team performance when it came to innovation in products and services, customer satisfaction, cost control, and expected sales growth. Contrary, the group of teams that reported average levels of previous experience but high levels of passion and collective vision demonstrated significantly stronger performance.

We also found that greater team experience only leads to better performance if team members share a strategic vision for the company. Thus, when team members don’t agree on the future strategy of the firm, the knowledge and skills they have will only marginally contribute to team performance.

Stellar teams have it all: hard and soft skills

When we talk about this balance between team member experience (hard skills) and passion and vision (soft skills) there’s a sweet spot where stellar teams seem to live. If team members are super smart and experienced, but they don’t feel like sharing this knowledge due to a lack of alignment about the vision for the company, their knowledge is useless for the business. Instead, these differences in passion and vision make teams perform worse. For example, if the CTO in the startup team has a lot of experience in the cyber software industry that is useful for building the current business, but she doesn’t agree with the CEO on the future strategy of the company, she is less likely to share all her previous knowledge on cyber software within the team.

To illustrate the importance of evaluating an entrepreneurial team with this balance between hard and soft skills in mind, let’s look at the case of Emma, an investor at a venture capital firm. (The names of people and institutions in this story have been changed for anonymity.)  Emma recently told me about a potential investment in a software company in Stockholm that she was very excited about. Let’s call it Clocker. When Emma read about Clocker and received the company materials, she was thrilled to meet the team. In addition to the interesting financials, the team’s track record was outstanding.

The CEO had in depth industry knowledge, worked in the software space for years, and led the product division for Salesforce. The CFO graduated from Harvard, had worked for Bain & Company before joining Clocker and had very strong financial and strategic skills. The VP of Sales was a sales tiger who had worked as an account manager for Microsoft. Finally, the fourth team member was very hands-on, a serial entrepreneur with a successful exit on her resume and some experience with start-up failures. On paper, this team for sure seemed to have all it would take to successfully scale up Clocker and ensure a nice return on the investment.

Nevertheless, when the team members presented their pitch in the boardroom and elaborated on the Clocker growth strategy, Emma was disappointed. The story just didn’t hold. While the CEO told Emma that she wanted to expand to the U.S. and become the next Salesforce, the CTO did not seem to share this ambition. He dismissed the CEO’s ideas immediately and argued that the company would be too busy with other projects to realize global expansion this year. It became clear that the Clocker team had very different goals in mind. They were also not equally passionate about the company. The VP of Sales still ran his own sales business on the side — while the CTO was constantly on the lookout for other jobs.

When Emma talked to the CEO a few weeks later she learned that the Clocker team had broken up. Because of their different goals for the company, team members did not communicate efficiently and failed to share their knowledge, which led to bad team dynamics and weak decision-making.

While previous experience has often been cited as a key ingredient for entrepreneurial success, our results show that experience alone will not lead to success. Instead knowledge, skills, and passion are equally important for succeeding as a new venture. Experience and expertise only lead to better performance if team members share their knowledge and have a common vision for the company.

When investors evaluate startup teams they should keep in mind that a great resume alone is not enough to achieve great performance. Building a successful startup is a long and bumpy road; without entrepreneurial passion and strategic vision, a stellar resume merely becomes a piece of paper.

A Short Guide to Pricing Your Services as a Consultant or Coach

Many executives dream about starting an executive coaching or consulting practice, or launching one after they retire. But a touchy subject soon emerges: what should you charge?

Too much, and you won’t have any clients. Too little, and you’ll work yourself to the bone — and become resentful in the process. How can you strike a balance that enables you to build a thriving practice where you’re helping people and are fairly compensated for it?

Through each of our experiences building successful coaching and consulting practices, we’ve discovered there are five key pricing strategies you can use. By deploying the right strategy at the right time, you can build a robust and lucrative practice.

Hourly billing. The simplest way to bill your clients is by the hour. At first, you may not have any idea how long a given project or engagement will take, so instead of risking a bad calculation (you think it’ll take 20 hours, but it actually takes 200), this approach may make sense. On the plus side, it’s clean and simple: they agree to (let’s say) $100/hour, and you worked 10 hours, so obviously the fee is $1000. It’s also what many people are familiar with, because their own lawyers and accountants charge that way.

But there are significant drawbacks, including the intensive record keeping this form of billing entails, and the level of scrutiny it invites (clients often feel entitled to ask, “Why did this take two hours, instead of one?”). Additionally, your pay is capped both by the number of hours you work, and clients’ hesitation to pay high hourly rates (many consultants or coaches struggle to get beyond $200-$300 per hour). We suggest moving on from this form of pricing fairly quickly.

Retainer agreements. A better arrangement, once you’ve built trust with a client, is a monthly retainer. In this situation, clients pay you a flat fee each month for access to your services (anywhere from $500/month for newbie coaches without much experience to $20,000/month for elite practitioners). A clear benefit is pricing predictability: you know that you’re getting X amount of money each month, no matter what. The downside is that unless you’re careful, your client may feel they own you, and take advantage of the “all you can eat” pricing by monopolizing your time.

It’s important to be very clear upfront about who can contact you for coaching help (Just the president? Or also his three vice-presidents?), during what hours (24/7? Just work hours?), and in what matter (Is it OK to call you? Text you?). You’ll also want to specify whether they only have access to your advice, or if there are specific deliverables (for instance, you might also agree to facilitate several off-site retreats). As you gain more experience and build your brand, this will be a natural way to offer your services.

Productized services. Another possibility is to develop a standard suite of products (because you’re selling professional services, the term of art is “productized services”). If you have popular offerings, you can often make life simpler for both you and your clients by creating a standard rate sheet. For instance, one of us (Dorie) often conducts half-day strategy sessions with her clients for a flat fee. This is easier for the client because the pricing is transparent, and because the basic format is the same, there’s no concern about “scope creep” or other variables that would impact the time and effort the coach spends.

Value-based pricing. Another approach, popularized by the consultant Alan Weiss, is to use “value-based fees.” The concept is that prior to suggesting a price, you have a detailed conversation with the prospect to understand and agree upon the value the engagement, if successful, would have on the business. For instance, you can weave in questions such as, “What would be the value to the company if this weren’t a problem?” or “What impact would it have if you could do XYZ better?” This question can actually be a valuable part of the coaching process, because when clients are coached to think about the value of the engagement, they get much clearer on their goals.

It makes sense that if you’re coaching the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, it’s completely appropriate for you to charge more than if you were coaching the CEO of a small local non-profit. That’s because in the former case, your coaching can create (let’s say) $100 million in new value if she becomes a better leader, whereas even a dramatic improvement for the local nonprofit CEO would only enhance the bottom line by $100,000. Once the buyer realizes the full value your work will bring, your fee — a tiny percentage of the overall gain — will seem trivial in comparison.

Pay for results. One of us (Marshall) pioneered the “pay for results” model.  It’s not for everyone, because it’s high stakes: if your client doesn’t improve, you get nothing. But if you succeed, the payday can be substantial (in Marshall’s case, upwards of $250,000 for a year-long engagement). But the model is only risky if you 1) don’t have a solid process and 2) don’t pick your clients well. If you do have a coaching or consulting process that you know works, a way to measure your client’s progress, and a willing and able client, your chances of success are high.

The coaches and consultants that succeed are those whose business lasts long enough to make an impact on their clients’ lives. And you can only do that if you get pricing right. By familiarizing yourself with the pricing strategies above, you’re giving yourself the tools necessary to build a successful, moneymaking practice.

5 Ways Your Chronic Stress Is Affecting Your Business

The distinction between acute stress and chronic stress is important. Examples of acute stress include the stress you experience after having an argument with an employee, delivering an important presentation, suffering through a bad day at work, or toiling toward a short-term deadline. These events are all short-lived. By contrast, chronic stress is ongoing and results from the constant stimulation of the body’s stress response.

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between acute and chronic stress, and in many cases, acute stress turns into chronic stress. The body is well-equipped to cope with acute stress. It can quickly adapt and recover. However, when stress becomes repetitive and prolonged, it takes a major toll on the body. Many of your bodily functions become overworked and may even begin to break down. Take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions:

  • Do you find yourself getting into a conflict with the same employee each day?
  • Do you face a constant pressure to perform?
  • Do you perpetually feel inadequately suited for your job as a leader?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re likely experiencing chronic stress. As a business leader, your stressors are generally different from those experienced by the general working population. Here are the most common ones, according to the Center for Creative Leadership:

Trying to accomplish more with less than adequate resources in a shorter amount of time. Are you frequently trying to do more with less, and do it faster? Perhaps you’ve decided to open a branch of your business in another location but you don’t really have a high enough budget or the headcount to do so. Even if you have the necessary resources, you may not have sufficient time. If you’re leading a publicly traded company, you likely face high pressure to appease shareholders while trying to protect your company’s infrastructure and preparing your employees for long-term success. But it’s impossible to appease all stakeholders at all times, and you need to make difficult choices. Buckle up for the ride.

How do you manage this type of stress? It’s all about focus. Focusing on the task at hand by planning, organizing, and prioritizing can help. Certain behaviors like defining and clarifying task expectations and sticking to a schedule can also be a godsend. With increased focus, the stress caused by working on a difficult task can be reduced. Better yet, future stress pertaining to upcoming tasks can be minimized or even eliminated. You have permission to breathe a sigh of relief.

Dealing with the negative aspects of personal relationships. Strong interpersonal relationships are key to a thriving business. Poor relationships between you and your employees have many repercussions. They’ve been shown to lower job satisfaction and increase stress and depression. In fact, poor relations with the people you work with have even been shown to impact customer demand and service. It’s all a domino effect. When relationships are weak, projects and initiatives can suffer to the point of jeopardizing the company and its place in the market.

Relationship-building requires skill and constant attention. As Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Relationships between you and your employees can be improved by learning how to better manage your staff and how to recognize and deal with conflicts effectively. Hosting or fostering team-building events to improve personal relationships in the workplace can also help.

Competition and lack of teamwork from your employees. “Toxic workers” are all too common in the workplace. They come in different forms. Overly competitive co-workers are one variety. They have a strong need to rise to the top and often do so at the expense of others. Is there someone on your team who constantly kisses up to you, often at others’ expense? Other toxic workers include free-riders who don’t complete their fair share of the workload. In either case, the results can be devastating and lead to high levels of stress for both you and their co-workers. Employees are 54 percent more likely to quit if even one toxic employee joins a team of 20 people.

Poor performance from direct reports. Poor performance is a stressor that affects employees and managers alike. Unfortunately, tackling poor performance is often fairly low on the agenda for many leaders. As long as employees are following employment law and company protocol, many managers adopt a laissez-faire attitude. The results can be crippling. Poor performance leads to reduced productivity, lower motivation and retention rates, and — you guessed it — stress.

While some performance issues should be dealt with by your HR department (misconduct or constant absences, for example), most should be addressed by the employee’s manager by setting clear expectations, providing sufficient training, and sufficiently motivating their employees.

Unreasonable customers. Managing customer relations is difficult. We’ve all heard that the customer is king. But customers can easily divert a business’s focus and cause undue stress. The most common source of stress from customers is unreasonable demands and expectations. The most effective companies not only meet the needs of customers but exceed them. They focus on the smallest details and create customer-centric cultures. When customer demands are too overbearing, they push back and look for alternative solutions.

You can learn to conquer chronic stress, but it will take a concerted effort on your part to do so.

The Creative Power of Your Sleep: 10 Easy Practices

Creativity is not a privilege or a gift. It is a natural capacity of all humans, the dynamic outgrowth of healthy living. Your creative potential can be cultivated and strengthened, or diminished and ignored.

If you are interested in boosting your creative energies, you should take a close look at your sleep and dreams. There are several easy practices you can learn to draw maximum power from the natural rhythms of your mind and body during sleep. If you are not engaging in these kinds of practices already, you may be limiting your creative efforts in other directions.

These 10 suggestions build on each other. The more you do with the early ones, the better you’ll do with the later ones.

1. Develop and maintain regular sleep patterns.

This is the simplest yet the hardest thing for many people to do. We all vary greatly in how much sleep we need, when we prefer to go to sleep, what time we naturally wake up, etc. Some people need only five or six hours of sleep per night to feel good and rested, while other people need at least eight or nine.

Find out what your ideal sleep pattern is, and make it an intentional practice to preserve and protect it. The reason for this is that even moderate sleep deprivation can have negative effects on cognitive functioning, and the first thing to weaken is your mental flexibility and the capacity to adapt to novel situations. To keep your mind at its creative best, take good care of your sleep patterns.

2. Pay attention to threshold experiences between waking and sleep. 

The moments when you are just fading from wakefulness to sleep (the hypnogogic state) and when you are transitioning out of sleep into wakefulness (the hypnopompic state) frequently include odd bursts of thought, imagery, and emotion. The brain is working in an unusually complex way during these brief, liminal experiences, and many artists and innovators have said they draw creative inspiration from this particular capacity of the mind.

If you pay attention to the mental flashes that cross your awareness while moving in and out of sleep, you may find some strange jewels of insight and intuition.

3. Experiment with sleep trackers, then put them aside.

“Know thyself” is a good motto with sleep as with any other aspect of one’s life. Numerous sleep trackers are available, and they can give you a basic sense of how the rhythms of your sleep are shaped by the alternation of your brain between phases of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.

If you use any sleep tracker over time, you will see for yourself how you tend to get more non-REM sleep during the first half of a regular night’s sleep, and more REM sleep in the second half. This is valuable information to know because it will help you refine and optimize your sleep patterns going forward.

4. Protect the final REM phase of the night.

During non-REM sleep, your brain slows down somewhat, but when it enters REM sleep, your brain becomes as intensely activated as it is when you are wide awake. Why is that? What is the brain doing in REM sleep that’s so important it justifies this massive expenditure of neural energy?

I think the answer is clear: The brain is dreaming. The brain needs to dream. Not all dreams occur during REM sleep, but most of them probably do.

The longest phase of REM sleep usually occurs at the end of the sleep cycle. So if you want to help your mind get the most creative stimulation from the natural rhythms of your sleep cycle, I suggest you do whatever you can to protect the final REM phase of the night. If you can avoid disruptions to your sleep during that time, you will give your mind its best opportunity to draw strength from the powerful dynamics of your dreaming imagination.

5. Take advantage of rebound sleep.

Most people have busy lives, and every now and then, something happens to shake up your normal sleep cycle. You stay up late for a party, you’re traveling a long distance, you’re taking care of someone who’s sick—whatever it is, you don’t sleep well for a night or two. Fortunately, the human sleep cycle is flexible, so you can make it through such sleep-starved times without any lasting damage.

The one predictable consequence of brief sleep deprivation is that when you can sleep normally again, you will experience a “rebound” of more sleep than usual. It’s as if your brain is making up for the lost time.article continues after advertisement

Researchers have found that rebound nights can be especially dense in REM sleep. So, if you can foresee a night when you’ll just be back from a tiring trip, or just finished with a big work project, or something like that, make sure you really give yourself a chance to sleep as long as you can. You will likely be rewarded with an especially bountiful harvest of dreaming.

Click Read More for 5 more tips to harness your sleep for creativity.

Work-Life Balance Is a Myth. Do This Instead

If you think about it, work-life balance is a strange aspiration for a fulfilling life. Balance is about stasis: if our lives were ever in balance — parents happy, kids taken care of, work working — then our overriding thought would be to shout “Nobody move!” and pray all would stay perfect forever. This false hope is made worse by the categories themselves. They imply that work is bad, and life is good; we lose ourselves in work but find ourselves in life; we survive work, but live life. And so the challenge, we are told, is to balance the heaviness of work with the lightness of life.

Yet work is not the opposite of life. It is instead a part of life — just as family is, as are friends and community and hobbies. All of these aspects of living have their share of wonderful, uplifting moments and their share of moments that drag us down. The same is true of work, yet when we think of it as an inherent bad in need of a counterweight, we lose sight of the possibility for better.

It seems more useful, then, to not try to balance the unbalanceable, but to treat work the same way you do life: By maximizing what you love. Here’s what we mean.

Consider why two people doing exactly the same work seem to gain strength and joy from very different moments. When we interviewed several anesthesiologists, we found that while their title and job function are identical, the thrills and chills they feel in their job are not. One said he loved the thrill of holding each patient hovering at that one precise point between life and death, while he shuddered at the “pressure” of helping each patient get healthy once the operation was complete. Another said she loved the bedside conversations before the operation, and the calm sensitivity required to bring a sedated patient gently back to consciousness without the panic that afflicts many patients. Another was drawn mostly to the intricacies of the anesthetic mechanism itself and has dedicated herself to defining precisely how each drug does what it does. Each one of us, for no good reason other than the clash of our chromosomes, draws strength from different activities, situations, moments and interactions.

Think of your life’s many different activities as threads. Some are black, some are grey and some are white. But some of these activities appear to be made of a different substance. These activities contain all the tell-tale signs of love: before you do them, you find yourself looking forward to them; while you’re doing them, time speeds up and you find yourself in flow; and after you’ve done them, you feel invigorated. These are your red threads, and research by the Mayo Clinic suggests that doctors who weave the fabric of their life with at least 20% red threads are significantly less likely to experience burnout.

The simplest way for you to do this is to spend a week in love with your job. This sounds odd, but all it really means is to select a regular week at work and take a pad around with you for the entire week. Down the middle of this pad, draw a vertical line to make two columns, and write “Loved It” at the top of one column and “Loathed It” at the top of the other. During the week, any time you find yourself feeling one of the signs of love scribble down exactly what you were doing in the Loved It column. And any time you find yourself feeling the inverse — before you do something, you procrastinate; while you do it, time drags; and when you’re done with it, you hope you never have to do it again — scribble down exactly what you were doing in the Loathed It column.

Obviously, there’ll be plenty of activities in your week that don’t make either list, but if you spend a week in love with your work, by the end of the week you will see a list of activities in your Loved It column that feel different to you than the rest of your work. They’ll have a different emotional valence, creating in you a distinct and distinctly positive feeling, one that draws you in and lifts you up.

Our research (a stratified random sample of the working populations of nineteen countries) reveals that 73% of us claim that we have the freedom to modify our job to fit our strengths better, but that only 18% of us do so. Your challenge, then, is to use your red threads to intelligently change, over time, the content of your job, so that it contains more things that you love doing and fewer that you’re aching to escape.

The most helpful categories for us are not “work” and “life.” We should not struggle to balance the two. Instead, the best categories are “love” and “loathe.” Our goal should be to, little by little, week by week, intentionally imbalance all aspects of our work toward the former and away from the latter. Not simply to make us feel better, but so that our colleagues, our friends and our family can all benefit from us at our very best.

We can’t always do only what we love. But we can always find the love in what we do.

7 Steps to Living Your Life With Purpose

I know firsthand that nothing else matters if you aren’t following your soul’s purpose. Once you’ve found it, you can align all areas of your life to point in that direction. It is possible to do what you love and live in flow — you just need the right motivation and mindset, and to take the right action.

1. Understand what life should feel like.

“Living on purpose” means doing what truly matters to you in alignment with your values and beliefs. I can’t tell you what that means for you, but you know it when you feel it — and when you don’t. 

When you aren’t being you, everything is foggy and colorless. You’re bored and busy at the same time, always tired. Even small things feel like work. You take tests to understand why you feel down and pills to fix it. The list can go on. If you continuously ignore your higher self, it will send you nudges — even a slap in the face — to get your attention.

When you’re in alignment, life is right. Things are easy, and everything just works. You feel alive, passionate, and lit up from within. You aren’t concerned with how to get where you’re going; you’re sure of yourself, even if you’re scared at the same time.

2. Tap into your calling within.

Stop searching outside yourself for answers. There’s only one: be who you were born to be. You can find plenty of exercises online to identify your calling, but you don’t need them. Deep within, you already know what makes you feel alive. You just have to pay attention.

Not sure what your mission is? You’ll be able to put it into words when you stop worrying whether you’re saying it right or others will “get it.” However, sometimes access to your soul is blocked by confusion, especially if you’ve ignored it for a long time. In that case, practice connecting with yourself and tuning in to what’s buried there by asking, “What do I need to know or listen to here?” Then trust the answer. I find journaling to be the most powerful way to do this, but you can also do this as part of a meditation or while walking or driving. 

3. Trust yourself and forget what others think. 

We’re naturally intuitive before we learn “the rules.” But there’s no right or wrong way to live. If you aren’t following your intuition, you’re operating on others’ terms — and no one can tell you how to be you.

There’s always another approach to everything. I hated building marketing funnels until I started doing them my way. Visionary leaders do things differently; that’s why they stand out. They question the norm to find what’s right for them.

Imagine that you’re successful. No one would question you because you’re on top of the world. Who would you be? How would you act? Confidence and self-belief are key. Consciously decide that you know what’s best for you. Put your hand on your heart and tell yourself, “I trust my ability to make the best decisions for me.” Do this for every area of life that’s important to you. 

4. Feel the fear and take the first step anyway.

If you don’t wake up excited to start your day, rip off the bandaid. Make a change or start taking action. While maintaining alignment will take practice, you don’t have to work forever to get there.

The unknown is scary. We feel safe and comfortable with how things have always been. Fear is part of us and will always be there, but it can’t rule you unless you let it; so take action toward your goals anyway. You don’t have to know how or feel ready or worthy. 

When I finally realized I wasn’t doing my soul work after struggling for years, I moved across the world to start over with my family. With almost no money, I gave myself no choice but to succeed by following my passion for helping others. It paid off, and I never looked back. While your path might not be as extreme, you do have to take the first step.

5. Rethink your to-do list.

Time is precious and you should value how you spend it. If you don’t decide what matters in advance, you’ll spend it all doing things that aren’t moving you forward. I constantly outline my goals and dreams in a document called “Creating the life I want.” I make sure I set those goals for myself (not others), identify the actions that will get me there, and schedule them each week.

Fast forward to a year from now when you’re living on purpose. Does the stuff on your to-do list today matter? Is that how you got there? Review the items on your list and either delete them, do them, or delegate them. Sometimes it’s worth paying someone else to do things so that you can focus on what really matters: the tasks that will get you where you want to go if you do them every day.

If you don’t care enough about a goal to take regular action toward it, it might not matter as much as you think it does. But if you want it badly enough, you’ll suck it up and do the work.

6. Check in with yourself daily.

Before you get out of bed in the morning, ask yourself what is important today. What would make you sleep well tonight? Most of the things we do all day disconnect us from ourselves, so practice tuning in. Just sit or journal whatever needs to come out for 15 minutes. Let go and ignore the outside world — even if you have to start by just noticing the world you created for yourself.

Before you make decisions or take action, ask yourself: Do I want to do this? Does this feel right? Am I excited about this? Make this a daily practice by setting reminders to check in; otherwise you’ll slip into old patterns.

7. Recognize that you have everything you need.

This may be uncomfortable at first, and it will still feel like work sometimes. But when you’re working toward the right thing, it’s worth it. You can either choose to deny yourself or say yes to your heart and soul, but you choose what you get in life. Do the work today to create the tomorrow of your dreams.

If you trust that it will work out, it will. Don’t worry if you don’t get the outcome you want today. Success takes time, which is why most people give up. You’ll never look back and think “I spent too much time being me”; so keep going. It’s impossible to fail at being you.

You have everything you need. You will become who you are meant to be when you realize who you already are.

Making Joy a Priority at Work

Right now, for example, companies are making massive investments in technologies that can more closely link their people to each other, to customers, and to other stakeholders. Yet many companies struggle because their cultures get in the way — too many layers and silos, too many colleagues who prefer to stay in their comfort zones, bask in their KPIs, and resist new ways of connecting and working.

This is a big problem. And joy can be a big part of the solution. Why? For two reasons. People intrinsically seek joy. And joy connects people more powerfully than almost any other human experience.

The connective power of joy is clearly visible in sports. When a team performs at its awe-inspiring best, overcoming its limitations and challenges, every player — indeed, the entire arena — experiences a brimming ecstasy that lifts the team even further. Success sparks joy. Joy fuels further success. Everyone is caught up in the moment.

Can the joy that is so apparent in championship athletics be replicated in business? Absolutely.

In any team environment, joy arises from a combination of harmonyimpact, andacknowledgment — all of which business leaders can engender in their organizations.

Harmony. On winning teams, each player has a distinct role in achieving the goal. One player might be a great passer. Another is a great scorer. Yet another may bring a certain intensity and competitive fire. When the diverse skills and strengths of teammates are really clicking together, it feels great.

Impact. Team harmony leads to impact, which further fuels joy. Even if the result is just a single sublime play or golden moment, the palpable joy of each teammate rises. You can see it in their faces as they throw their arms around each other and jump up and down like jubilant children. They are saying to each other: “Can you believe we did that?!”

Acknowledgment. Great coaches instruct their players to, when they score, immediately point to the teammates who created the scoring opportunity. Acknowledging each player’s contributions and cheering for each other powers the entire joy-success-joy cycle.

This is a pattern rife with opportunity for business leaders. By providing people with more of the experiences that engender joy in any team setting, leaders can tap more of the practical power of joy in their companies.

To test this premise, A.T. Kearney conducted a survey in December 2018 that explored people’s workplace experiences across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region. The sample included more than 500 employees of various ages in companies with more than $2 billion in revenues and in a range of industries.

We first asked respondents to report how much joy they experience in the workplace. We then asked them to rate how well a series of statements reflects their professional experience, so we could gauge whether these variables correlate with feeling joy at work.

As shown in the figure below, employees who reported feeling more joy at work strongly agreed with each statement much more frequently than did employees who said they feel less joy at work. This suggests that the full range of experiences that visibly yield joy in team athletics — namely harmony, impact, and acknowledgment — can have much the same effect in the business world.

Our survey findings further suggest that joy stems from believing one’s work is truly meaningful. Employees who believe their “company makes a positive societal contribution” and who feel “personally committed to achieving the company’s vision and strategy” experienced the most joy at work. In my industry, where almost 100% of newly recruited consultants are Millennials, providing an overarching purpose is critical to attracting and retaining great talent.

These findings make perfect sense to me. Life is a vector requiring both force and direction. The pursuit of happiness sets the direction, but feeling joy provides the daily confirmation that we are doing exactly what we should be doing, for the company and for the teammates who energize our efforts.

The lesson? Crafting business cultures that more consistently engender such experiences can create a much stronger sense of personal interconnection, shared purpose, and heartfelt pride across the organization.

However, the survey also points to a pronounced “joy gap” at work. Nearly 90% of respondents said that they expect to experience a substantial degree of joy at work, yet only 37% report that such is their actual experience. Nor is this joy gap confined to any particular generational cohort. For Gen Xers and Millennials (the vast majority of our sample), the joy gap was 57% and 44%, respectively.

Business leaders tend to think a great deal about success, but rarely about joy. Chances are, few are even aware of the joy gap in their organization and the resulting lack of interpersonal connection and team aspiration. That must change.

Here are some specific steps leaders can take to increase joy at work:

Set the agenda. Make the experience of joy an explicit corporate purpose. Strengthen your inclusion agenda to incorporate meaningful efforts toward ensuring all employees feel heard, recognized, and acknowledged. Fund mental health benefits for all employees.

Set the stage. Staff your new digital/culture programs with true cross-unit, cross-silo teams, where joint teamwork delivers maximum impact, shared success, and fun.

Set the tone. Encourage and celebrate individual and corporate social impact efforts. Authentically express more of the joy you personally experience in your role. Joy begets joy. In my firm, I have emphasized the need to joyfully “dial up” the culture with a sustained emphasis on diversity, inclusion, apprenticeship, and personal day-to-day leadership.

Joy can pack as much practical punch as technology if we allow it to. Both are required to maintain the cohesion that helps large organizations nimbly communicate and adapt to unprecedented challenges. Technology provides the infrastructure for connectivity, but the foundation must be a culture dedicated to the human experience of harmony, impact, and acknowledgment. In sum, joy.

6 Causes of Burnout, and How to Avoid Them

Ultimately only you can know what is right in your situation. But there is research that can help you determine whether you can salvage your current job or whether the mismatch between you and your current position is so great that you need to look for a new one.

Various models help to explain and predict burnout, which is now an official medical diagnosis, according to the World Health Organization. One, called the Areas of Worklife model (drawn from research by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter of the University of California at Berkeley and Acadia University, respectively) identifies six areas where you could experience imbalances that lead to burnout. As a time management coach, I’ve seen that some individuals can make positive shifts in one or more of these areas and then happily stay in their current position while others discover that the mismatch is still too great, and decide that it’s time to move on.

Here are the six areas that can lead to burnout and how you can attempt to remedy each one.

1. Workload. When you have a workload that matches your capacity, you can effectively get your work done, have opportunities for rest and recovery, and find time for professional growth and development. When you chronically feel overloaded, these opportunities to restore balance don’t exist.

To address the stress of your workload, assess how well you’re doing in these key areas: planning your workload, prioritizing your work, delegating tasks, saying no, and letting go of perfectionism. If you haven’t been doing one or more of these things, try to make progress in these time management skill areas and then see how you feel. For many individuals, especially those who have a bent toward people pleasing, some proactive effort on reducing their workload can significantly reduce feelings of burnout and provide space to rest.

2. Perceived lack of control. Feeling like you lack autonomy, access to resources, and a say in decisions that impact your professional life can take a toll on your well-being. If you find yourself feeling out of control, step back and ask yourself, “What exactly is causing me to feel this way?” For instance, does your boss contact you at all hours of the day and night, and make you feel like you need to always be on call? Are the priorities within your workplace constantly shifting so you can never get ahead? Or do you simply not have enough predictability in terms of your physical or people resources to effectively perform your job?

Then ask yourself what you can do to shift this situation. Is it possible to discuss the issue with your boss to establish better boundaries and not respond to messages 24/7? Could you come to an agreement that certain priorities will remain constant? Or could you have more resources if you communicated about what you needed? Once you’ve considered these areas, you can then see what you can do to influence your environment versus what won’t change no matter what you say or do.

3. Reward. If the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for your job don’t match the amount of effort and time you put in to them, then you’re likely to feel like the investment is not worth the payoff.

In these instances, you want to look within and determine exactly what you would need to feel properly appreciated. For example, perhaps you need to ask for a raise or promotion. Maybe you need more positive feedback and face time with your boss. Or perhaps you need to take advantage of the rewards you’ve already accrued, such as taking the comp time that you earned during a particularly busy time at the office. Experiment to see which rewards would make what you’re doing worth it to you and whether there is the opportunity to receive more of those rewards within your current work environment.

4. Community. Who do you work with or around? How supportive and trusting are those relationships? In many cases you can’t choose your colleagues and clients, but you can improve the dynamic. It could be as simple as taking the time to ask others how their day is going — and really listening. Or sending an email to someone to let them know you appreciated their presentation. Or choosing to communicate something difficult in a respectful, nonjudgmental way. Burnout can be contagious, so to elevate your individual engagement, you must shift the morale of the group. If you’ve found that once you’ve done all you can, others can’t improve or don’t want improved relationships, then you may want to consider a job change.

5. Fairness. Think about whether you believe that you receive fair and equitable treatment. For example, do you get acknowledged for your contributions or do other individuals get praised and your work goes unnoticed? Does someone else get regular deadline extensions or access to additional resources when you don’t?

If you feel that a lack of fairness exacerbates your burnout, start by speaking up. Sometimes individuals are unaware of their biases or won’t take action until you ask for what you want. You can request to be mentioned as a contributor, to give part of a presentation, or for additional time and resources. And if you still find that the response seems inequitable, you can consider bringing that up in a polite way: “I noticed that the Chicago team got an additional week to work on their project that was originally due on the same date as ours. Can you help me understand why that’s not possible for our team as well?”

6. Values mismatch. If you highly value something that your company does not, your motivation to work hard and persevere can significantly drop. Ideals and motivations tend to be deeply ingrained in individuals and organizations. When you’re assessing this element of burnout, you need to think carefully about how important it is to you to match your values with those of the organization.

Also consider whether the leaders in your company have shifted their values. Look around you and ask yourself: How does my boss, my team, and my organization make decisions and invest resources? Do I feel good about those underlying motivations? Do they seem open to change? If you have strongly held values and those with influence in your organization differ from yours, you may need to look for a more congruent opportunity.

Burnout isn’t simply about being tired. It’s a multifaceted issue that requires a multifaceted solution. Before you quit, really think through what exactly is contributing to your burnout and attempt to make changes. If you find that despite your best efforts, little has changed, then see if it makes sense to stay or if it’s time to leave.

Starting a Business, Know what NOT to Do.

The fact of the matter is, you can take in all the advice in the world from the most respected sources, but if it doesn’t feel right to you, you have to trust vision and conviction enough to go your own way.

We asked 25 entrepreneurs about the worst advice they ever got, and what they learned from it.  

Name: Alexis Maybank
Company: Project September 
Bad advice: Right as I was coming out of college and was going to work in a predominantly male environment as the only female, people would try to be kind, but would tell me that I must dress and act a certain way in order to fit in. I felt so uncomfortable and so not like me. A few years later I broke away from that and realized you are your own brand. And the more comfortable you are, the more confident and memorable you’ll be. You’ll be the most effective if you achieve your own personal style.

Name: Tim Chen
Company: Nerdwallet 
Bad advice: I’m Asian. My parents told me to keep my head down, work hard and show my value through work rather than through my mouth. I think that might work well in some industries, but even in those cases, there is a benefit of speaking up and communicating.

Name: David Bladow
Company:BloomThat
Advice: When I started Bloomthat, a lot of people told me it wasn’t going to work. I think it was well intentioned, but I’m glad I ignored it. Take that kind of advice with a grain of salt and keep pushing.

Name: Jen Rubio
Company: Away 
Bad advice: When people tell me to sleep on it, it never turns out well. I just end up questioning myself and not having any real conviction in my decision.

I’ve really learned how to read my instincts. Now that there is an entire company, I will look for the right data to validate my instincts. Sometimes my instincts are wrong, but now I know the right questions to ask to get there, instead of wasting away without trying to find more information.

Click Read More for 20 more pieces of not-so-great advice.

Create A Personal Resilience Plan: 3 Steps To Higher Performance And Happiness

When was the last time you hit send on a curt email and then instantly regretted it? Or perhaps you retreated from a difficult conversation, spending hours fuming internally instead of proactively addressing the situation?

If you’ve had either one of these experiences, you’re scarcely alone. In the face of relentlessly rising demand and always-on connectivity, we hear similar stories from clients across all levels and industries.

At one recent session we did with the senior leaders of a Fortune 500 company, we began by asking, “What’s the biggest personal barrier you face in leading more effectively?” The first person to answer summed it up simply: “Being too reactive.”

Constantly connected, juggling multiple tasks simultaneously, and working across time zones with multiple stakeholders, each of us regularly experiences threats to our value. The consequence is that many of us spend our days moving in and out of what we call “Survival Mode” – battling reactive feelings of frustration, irritability, anxiety, and overwhelm that inhibit our performance and our sense of well-being. Left unaddressed, these feelings eventually land us in burnout – the worst place of all from which to perform.

What can you do to avoid reacting impulsively and angrily, or disappearing into your shell, when you feel triggered or overwhelmed? The answer is remarkably simple: take better, more deliberate care of yourself.

Building a resilience plan

Just as it pays to build a development plan, it’s important to create a clear way to combat both reactivity and burnout. In our work, we advise clients to do so by building a three-part “resilience plan.”

1. Refuel: Filling your reservoir

Purpose: Build physical, emotional and mental reserves that you can draw on under especially stressful circumstances.

More than ever, it is critical that we pay attention to the fuel in our tank. What most reliably makes you feel better? It could be quieting your mind through breathing or meditating. Perhaps it’s working out, walking in nature, or simply checking in with your spouse, or a trusted friend. Or maybe it’s listening to, or playing, music.

Ritualizing renewal behaviors is critical to sustaining them. That requires putting them in your calendar, at a regular time, with a back-up time in case something gets in your way

Practice: Make a list of ways to regularly refuel your tank and schedule them in your calendar.

2. Reset: Your emergency response toolkit

Purpose: Calm your body to avoid reacting in ways that you’ll regret.

Here’s the “Golden Rule of Triggers”: Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.

If you are triggered and your first instinct is to lash out, hold your fire. If it’s to retreat and disappear, stay engaged. Either way, it’s critical to quiet your physiology, so you can think more clearly and spaciously, and make deliberate choices about how you want to respond.

Practice: Start by taking a deep breath – in to a count of three, out to a count of six. Then, feel your feet, to ground you in the present moment.

Next, check in with yourself. Are you still feeling activated and upset? If the answer is yes, look for the next opportunity to do one of the renewal activities you’ve already identified as a regular practice.

Which one will give you the most instant and reliable sense of calm? Do that.

3. Reframe: Seeing through a new lens

Purpose: Release the hold that difficult people and circumstances exert on you.

There are times when simply calming your body isn’t enough because the survival emotions keep rearising, often accompanied by a voice in your head.

Sometimes this voice is your “inner lawyer,” who defends and rationalizes your worst behaviors. Other times it may be your inner critic, which finds fault with whatever you’ve done. Under pressure, we often move back and forth between the two, blaming ourselves and blaming others, neither of which is healthy or constructive.

Practice: Compare the facts to the stories you tell about them

Find time to quietly reflect on and reframe what’s happened. Ask yourself “What are the facts in this situation? What’s undeniably true?”

Next, ask yourself “What’s the story I’ve told about those facts?”

Finally, “What is the most realistically hopeful story I can tell about this situation, without subverting the facts?”

Human beings are meaning-making creatures, and we often tell stories so quickly that we mistake them for facts. Catching ourselves before our stories take on a life of their own can save us and others unnecessary misery.

Is an MBA Worth It? How to Decide

Obtaining an MBA degree requires a significant investment of time, energy and money. So, before you enroll in graduate business school, it’s important to assess whether the benefits of attending outweigh the costs, according to alumni and professors of MBA programs. Read on to learn more about the key financial, professional and lifestyle considerations to factor into the decision-making process and tips for determining whether applying to an MBA program is the right choice for you.

The Financial Return on Investment for an MBA

According to experts, one way to gauge the short-term financial benefits of an MBA is to research the average salary among a business school’s recent grads and compare that figure with the average student loan debt.

Among the ranked business schools in the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings that provided salary figures, the average starting salary among 2018 grads from full-time MBA programs was $87,683.88. Meanwhile, the average debt burden among 2018 grads of full-time MBA programs at the ranked B-schools that self-reported their student debt statistics was $51,671.90. At the schools that provided both debt and salary figures, the average salary for MBA grads was $86,253.72, which is 167% higher than the average debt burden at those schools.

Mike Catania, the founder of the coupon website PromotionCode.org and a student in the executive MBA program at the University of California—Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, says one of the major reasons why he chose to attend B-school was a desire to expand his network. “I got exactly what I wanted – access to brilliant classmates and faculty that I would never have encountered on my own,” he wrote in an email. “It’s difficult to ascribe a value to that, but I look at it as only temporarily intangible – the relationships forged over the next few years will positively affect my opportunities as an entrepreneur moving forward.” 

Experts advise prospective MBA students to also think about the long-term financial implications of pursuing an MBA.

Among the ranked business schools in the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings that provided salary figures, the average starting salary among 2018 grads from full-time MBA programs was $87,683.88. Meanwhile, the average debt burden among 2018 grads of full-time MBA programs at the ranked B-schools that self-reported their student debt statistics was $51,671.90. At the schools that provided both debt and salary figures, the average salary for MBA grads was $86,253.72, which is 167% higher than the average debt burden at those schools.

Still, in order to decide whether it’s a wise decision to attend B-school, it is not sufficient to calculate the immediate financial payoff of an MBA degree, because the professional contacts you make during B-school could have a long-lasting influence on your career trajectory, experts say.

Mike Catania, the founder of the coupon website PromotionCode.org and a student in the executive MBA program at the University of California—Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, says one of the major reasons why he chose to attend B-school was a desire to expand his network. “I got exactly what I wanted – access to brilliant classmates and faculty that I would never have encountered on my own,” he wrote in an email. “It’s difficult to ascribe a value to that, but I look at it as only temporarily intangible – the relationships forged over the next few years will positively affect my opportunities as an entrepreneur moving forward.” 

Experts advise prospective MBA students to also think about the long-term financial implications of pursuing an MBA.

A 2018 report on the financial return on investment for an MBA, published by QS Quacquarelli Symonds – a higher education data, consulting and research company – reveals the potential long-term profit from an MBA. According to the report, within 10 years of earning an MBA degree, the average MBA grad from either a U.S. or international business school had an estimated decade-long return on investment of $390,751, even after subtracting the tuition and opportunity costs of attending an MBA program. Furthermore, the report shows that the average decade-long return of an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business exceeded $1 million.

Nonfinancial Factors to Consider

Though the monetary benefit of an MBA degree is a key consideration, experts say there are other important factors to evaluate, such as whether pursuing that degree would either facilitate career change or accelerate career advancement. Potential MBA students should also assess whether an MBA would help them gain technical skills and professional connections that would make them more marketable to employers and more attractive to clients in their target industry, experts say.

Career Considerations

“Often candidates have a career progression in mind – ask whether people who have followed that path have been helped by an MBA,” wrote Mark W. Nelson, the dean of Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, in an email. “Also, consider your personal opportunities for growth. What do you want to work on? Consider how an MBA would help you develop those capabilities.”

Nelson says an MBA is best suited for people who want to initiate a major change in their career trajectory. “An MBA is a good path when candidates are looking for a career switch or a significant career advancement,” he wrote.

Elissa Sangster – the CEO of the Forté Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase the representation of women in business schools and corporate leadership positions – cautions that an MBA may not be necessary for every type of business career.

“You could trick yourself into thinking you need to go and pursue an MBA because, if you’re going to run a yoga studio or you’re going to … open up a car wash or run a food truck, those are all businesses,” Sangster says. Getting an expensive MBA degree may not be a smart financial decision for someone who wants to run a small local business, while it could be a strategic move for someone who hopes to start or manage a large, influential corporation, she says.

Sangster says MBA programs are designed to train future organization leaders, so an MBA is only suitable for a person who wants to become a leader. “That could be an entrepreneurial leader or it could be a corporate leader or it could end up being a nonprofit leader of some sort (or) a governmental leader, because we see MBAs in all those fields,” she says. An MBA might not be the best fit for someone who wants to be a functional specialist in a particular business field, since it is a general management degree. However, MBA credentials are highly relevant to individuals who want to gain the interdisciplinary strategic thinking and communication skills necessary to lead a complex organization.

Lifestyle Considerations

Anyone considering an MBA should understand that completing this type of academic program requires serious commitment, Catania says. Enrolling in an MBA program isn’t something you should do if you’re unsure about wanting an MBA degree. “It’s just going to eat up so much of your time, and all of the (business) schools make it abundantly clear that this is on par with a job,” he adds.

Catania urges potential MBA students to think carefully about whether they have a compelling reason to pursue an MBA. “I would advise a prospective student only to pursue an MBA if they can distill their intentions into a single, clear objective,” he wrote in an email.

If you are considering business school, click Read More to continue the article.

5 Ways to Leave Your Work Stress at Work

Firaz was recently appointed CEO of a $1 billion company where he had held various roles over the past nine years. He had coveted this position for two years, but, now that he had it, Firaz was far from happy.

Work was stressful in a number of ways. He felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of managing the executive leadership team, particularly because they were his peers not that long ago. Another stressor came from managing a board that, while united in its support of him as CEO, was divisively fractured about the company’s strategy. Feelings of fear and inadequacy related to taking the company forward in the midst of new government regulations and stiff competition also added to the stress.

In addition, Firaz wasn’t feeling successful at home either. Before accepting the CEO role, he had promised his wife and children he’d be home for dinner each night. And, although he was physically present at the dinner table, his mental attention was captured by a new text pinging every few minutes. He became irritated over small things. He often fell asleep when he should have been awake (like while reading to his kids) and was awake when he should have been asleep (at 3 am).

Firaz’s work pressure was seeping into his home life and cutting him off from one of the most important resources for easing his stress — his family.

You don’t need to be a CEO to feel like this. Stress is a part of most jobs. Here are five ways to recharge at home without adding stress to the lives of the very people who most want to support you.

Communicate — appropriately. When you’re not fully present at home because you’re distracted by work, your family might interpret your lack of attention to mean that you don’t value them or that they did something wrong. Instead, be transparent about what’s going on. Firaz learned to say, “I’m learning my new role, and it’s a big step up. I’m feeling overwhelmed and you might see me taking work calls more often than I’d like to for the next three months.” By disclosing what was on his mind, Firaz didn’t have to keep his stress bottled up, which often lead to an outburst at home or work.

At the same time, be sure to put your troubles into perspective for your family. When Firaz shared that he was worried about work, his 7-year-old daughter gave him her allowance for the week in the hope that it would help. Realizing how he may have worried her more than he intended, Firaz explained to her, “Although I’m stressed about work, this is the job I wanted and I’m excited to be doing it. The things I’m worried about will be sorted out as I learn my new role and hire more people.”

Transition before you get home. As you travel from work to home, take the time to build in a mini-transition. Firaz began stopping by a lake on his way home. He’d get out of his car and sit on a bench to look at the view for two minutes before completing his commute. This daily ritual was a cue to shut down work issues (at least until after dinner) and get ready for a different set of interactions at home. You can come up with other rituals to intentionally make the transition from one mode to another. If you commute on a train, you might look at a family photo before you leave the station as a way to redirect your focus to your family.

Share the wealth. Your family provides you with support and is sensitive to your stressors and moods. Although it’s helpful to communicate with them about what’s on your mind, be sure not to unload all your pent-up emotions on them. Find a trusted friend, colleague, or coach — or maybe someone from your personal board of directors — who can support you during times of high stress. You can leverage them as a place to vent, as a sounding board, or for providing advice. During one of our coaching conversations, Firaz was distracted and said he was dreading an upcoming conversation with his CFO. We spent a full hour exploring the sources of his concern — recognizing the common pattern that Firaz displayed whenever he faced confrontations with others — and arrived at a strategy for the upcoming conversation. Consequently, Firaz was able to discharge his worries and go home much more relaxed.

Set a day aside. Let your family know when you’ll be home and fully present and agree on a day when you might come home later than usual. On this day, you might not be able to make it home for dinner, reserving it for evening work engagements or to whittle down your to-do list. Choosing which day to make your “late day” is a personal choice but it does help to make it consistent so that you and your family can plan for it ahead of time.

Count your blessings. Research shows that gratitude has many benefits, including reduced stress. Before you get home, review your workday to identify one thing — no matter how small — for which you’re grateful. On particularly tough days, Firaz could at least express thanks for the Starbucks on the first floor.

By intentionally managing his work stress away from the office, Firaz opened up space to focus on his wife and kids when he was at home, which helped him gain perspective, rest, and cope better with his worries. He was able to sleep at the right time and in the right place. Firaz also discovered that moving from high-strung to relaxed made him a role model for his kids. His 16-year-old son followed some of the steps to manage his anxieties about a friendship that wasn’t working out.

How Habit Boredom Makes You Abandon Your Goals

It turns out that reaching a goal can be incredibly difficult even if you set yourself up for success by creating a new habit. That’s because of something called “habit boredom,” which is the weakening of your positive emotional response to an action once it becomes habitual.

Here’s what you need to know about how habit boredom can create setbacks with your goals, just when you think you’re finally on your way to reaching them.

Understanding habit boredom

Establishing good habits has long been touted as a way to reach your goals. After all, researchers have found that about 40 percent of your daily activities are performed habitually. Creating beneficial habits — like putting things away, making a bag lunch to take to work each day, and drinking a glass of water before each meal — can ensure that your actions are working toward your goals of a cleaner house, better finances, and improved health.

The problem is that intentionally creating a new and beneficial habit means you have an emotional response to it. For instance, you may feel proud of yourself when you begin your habit of packing a lunch each day. Look at you, starting a new money-saving habit! You can puff out your chest with pride as you calculate how much you’re saving with each homemade sandwich.

But that emotional response is not going to be quite as strong on day 17. That’s because the process of creating a habit also numbs your emotional response to that habit. In other words, as the habit takes over, you’re more likely to feel bored by it, since it’s no longer novel.

By that point, throwing together some turkey and cheese on wheat is no longer something to be proud of — it’s just Tuesday. And when your coworkers ask if you want to check out the new taco truck, the fact that you no longer have a strong emotional connection to your lunch-making habit means it’ll be easy to let your poor sandwich get soggy in the refrigerator while you enjoy some tacos.

Combatting habit boredom

Part of the problem with habit boredom is the fact that you may not realize that’s why you’re abandoning your newly-formed habit. It may seem rational to just skip your new routine one time because you’re tired, hungry, busy, or otherwise unable to let the habitual action take over.

However, habit boredom means you’re resistant to making your usual brown bag lunch the next day, too. And the one after that.

There are a couple of ways to keep habit boredom from wrecking all your progress, however.

Fall in love with the boredom

Habit and productivity expert James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits that truly elite goal-setters find a way to enjoy the boredom of their habits. If the only path to become an Olympic athlete is to spend each day doing boring, repetitive athletic exercises, then those individuals who are capable of finding ways to enjoy the boredom have a leg up over those who feel like doing yet another set is about as interesting as watching paint dry.

So how do you go about falling in love with boredom?

  • Pair your boring habit with something novel. Adding a fun motivator to your new habit can help you keep going with a habit that has lost its sheen. For instance, if you’re trying to keep your brown bag lunch habit going, you could use fun and colorful food storage, start cutting your sandwiches into shapes, or even experiment with recipes and snacks you’ve always wanted to try.
     
  • Partner with a friend. You probably already know that exercise is more fun with a buddy. So is any other boring, repetitive habit. If you’re trying to establish a money-saving habit, partner up with a friend who is also trying to start a new habit. Holding each other accountable can help you both stay on track when habit boredom strikes.

Embrace the process orientation

We generally establish new habits because we have a goal in mind. The problem is that habit boredom can make us feel like we’ve failed if the boredom strikes before we’ve reached the goal.

When you’re focused solely on a goal, whether that goal is a cleaner house, better finances, or improved health, you often focus on the question, “Can I do this?” rather than “How do I do this?” The first question assumes that failure is an option. The second assumes that you will succeed and prompts you to figure out your process for doing so.

That’s why the process orientation, which focuses on how to do something, is more likely to lead to success. The guiding principle of process orientation is the mantra “there are no failures, only ineffective solutions.”

If your habit boredom leads you to abandoning your new habit, there’s no need to feel like you’re never going to reach your goal. You just need to tweak your solution to see if it’ll better help you reach it. When you’re open to asking yourself why something didn’t work, you’re more likely to find a solution that will work rather than simply abandon the habit and goal altogether.

12 Mistakes You Might be Making in the First 10 Minutes of the Workday

If you show up late to the office or get sucked into an overflowing inbox, you could easily get thrown off and have a hard time focusing for the rest of the day.

We did some research and rounded up 12 common traps that can ensnare you within the first 10 minutes of your workday. Read on to find out how to avoid those pitfalls and set yourself up for success.

You’re showing up late to work.

You could be sabotaging your workday before it even begins.

A study cited by The Huffington Post found that bosses tend to see employees who come in later as less conscientious and give them lower performance ratings — even if those employees leave later, too.

It’s not fair, but it’s the current reality. So try to get to the office as early as possible.

You forget to say hi to your coworkers.

You can set a pleasant tone for yourself and others around you by taking a few minutes to catch up with your colleagues.

If you’re a leader and you don’t say “hi” to your team, your seeming lack of people skills could undercut your technical competence, according to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of ” Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.”

Even if you aren’t a manager, making a silent beeline for your desk could make you appear less approachable to colleagues.

You drink coffee too early in the morning.

If you’re not the kind of person who downs a cup right when you wake up, you probably grab it as soon as you get into the office.

But research suggests that the best time to drink coffee is at 10 am. That’s because the stress hormone cortisol, which regulates energy, generally peaks between 8 and 9 am. When you drink coffee during that time, the body starts producing less cortisol and depends more on caffeine.

Once your cortisol levels start declining after 9:30 am, you might really need that caffeine boost.

You start your day answering every single email.

Once you settle into your chair, it’s tempting to dive directly into the slew of messages that arrived overnight.

But according to Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work,” the first 10 minutes of the workday should be spent quickly scanning and prioritizing emails. That way you can see if there’s anything urgent and create a plan for answering the rest later.

“Checking email can become one of those tasks that make it feel like you are accomplishing things, wherein the danger is you are not attending to priority-action items, and you’re letting others set your agenda,” Kerr told Business Insider.

You forget to make a tentative schedule before launching into your work.

Before you buckle down, Taylor suggests making sure you have an idea of where the day is headed — that includes writing down your top priorities and must-dos for the day and reviewing your calendar.

Check to see what events you may have planned and whether you need to prepare for any calls or conferences. Otherwise, you could be caught off guard when you get a 10-minute reminder for a team meeting and you’re smack in the middle of writing a project proposal.

Click Read More for other tips.

How People Redirect Their Careers After Getting Laid Off

In today’s economy, job loss has become everyday business, ranging from individuals losing their entire firms due to bankruptcy, to losing their jobs because of layoffs, technological disruptions, mergers, and other types of reorganizations. Hundreds of thousands of organizations, ranging in size from small businesses to large firms, file for bankruptcy every year. According to a 2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, between 2015 and 2017, three million workers were displaced from jobs they had held for at least three years. To thrive in their careers, professionals need to learn how to bounce back from these devastating losses.

Our research on the career trajectories and mourning patterns of former Lehman Brothers employees indicates that those responding to job loss tend to follow one of two paths as they re-enter the job market. Which direction they take hinges primarily on what they want to salvage from their experiences at their old firm, and has important implications for the breadth of their opportunities going forward.

Recreators and Repurposers

We call these two groups “Recreators” and “Repurposers.” Recreators tend to find similar positions, in comparable types of organizations and industries. For Lehman bankers, this meant securing jobs at other financial institutions, often as bankers. Repurposers, by contrast, typically leave organizational careers to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities, in finance or other fields. For Lehman bankers, this involved launching various types of new businesses, including for example travel, education, and e-commerce ventures.

What accounted for these strikingly different career choices? Contrary to much existing research, it was not differential access to resources such as knowledge, networks, or financial capital. Instead, the differentiator was what bankers chose to “hold on to” from their organization after its bankruptcy that mattered. Indeed, rather than focusing on what they lost, both Recreators and Repurposers concentrated on what could they “salvage” from their experiences in their former company.

Recreators had formed tight, almost familial, bonds with their coworkers, and thus sought to recreate this “magic” in similar organizations, doing similar things, with similar — and sometimes the very same — people with whom they had worked at Lehman. To quote one of the participants in our study, “…to be honest, being able to keep working with my colleagues was the most compelling reason [to stay in banking] — to do the same thing with the same people.”

Repurposers, by contrast, held on to the entrepreneurial culture of the organization and the skills that they had learned. Their work relationships were professional and cordial, but they did not prioritize maintaining them after the bankruptcy. These individuals sought opportunities to use those skills in new and different ways. In explaining his decision to become an entrepreneur, another former Lehman banker commented, “…my skills are probably in excess when I’m in a bank, but I can use them profitably when I work with a startup. So when I apply the same set of skills to a startup I can accelerate a lot more its growth.”

These paths are not unique to Lehman Brothers’ employees. For example, unpublished work by Yale researchers Winnie Jiang and Amy Wrzesniewski suggests that in an occupation where jobs are becoming increasingly scarce, journalists followed either a “preservation” (akin to recreating) or a “reinvention” (akin to repurposing) path as they moved forward with their careers.

We also interviewed executives in other industries who had recently been laid off and successfully bounced back. Similar patterns emerged from these conversations. For instance, “Joe,” now the head of investor relations at a biotechnology firm, followed a Recreator path. He described the people he worked with as the most important factor in his career choices, wanting to recreate the family-like culture he had experienced in his previous firm. By contrast, “Stan” became a Repurposer: once a senior financial auditor, he now runs his own consulting practice. In explaining why, he implied the importance of the skills he had learned as an auditor and how he could rely on them to make new opportunities for himself.

Building Broader Horizons

So which pathway — recreating or repurposing — is better? One consideration, of course, is the number of positions available that might match one’s previous job. In particular, in light of layoffs and bankruptcies, there may be a flood of individuals with similar skill sets vying for a limited amount of positions. Thus, Repurposers may ultimately have the broadest set of opportunities when moving from one job to the next. That said, our research suggests that either path may ultimately be successful; the key is taking the time to consider what you can salvage from your previous job and how to use it to get your next one.

The executives we interviewed echoed the themes in our research, and provided strikingly similar advice on how to successfully bounce back from job loss: take stock, hold on, and let go.

  • Take stock of how you feel, what you value, and what you have gained from your past work experience. According to Joe and Stan, respectively, “It takes time to process job loss, you cannot understand a lot of things in that moment.” “Take time to figure out what matters to you… create the space for grieving, but do not let that paralyze you. You have to realize that there are a lot of things that you do not lose when you no longer have a job.”
  • Hold on to what you value and let go of all other parts of your experience. To this end, Joe noted, “You can find some of what you had before elsewhere. Although it will not be exactly the same, it will eventually become a new normal. You can still hold on to some of the things that are important to you, but you also have to realize that that organization is moving forward without you, you are no longer there.” Similarly, Stan, explained, “Do not wallow in your sorrows, think forward. There are always new opportunities ahead.”

In sum, work loss can be generative when appropriately mourned. As our research indicates, how one bounces back relates closely to how one processes loss. It is in the very processing of loss that movement occurs: from focusing on what is lost, to what is gained and can be re-used in a new job.

Why Inclusive Leaders Are Good for Organizations, and How to Become One

Companies increasingly rely on diverse, multidisciplinary teams that combine the collective capabilities of women and men, people of different cultural heritage, and younger and older workers. But simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership.

Inclusiveness isn’t just nice to have on teams. Our research shows that it directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. What’s more, we found that a 10% improvement in perceptions of inclusion increases work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism.

What specific actions can leaders take to be more inclusive? To answer this question, we surveyed more than 4,100 employees about inclusion, interviewed those identified by followers as highly inclusive, and reviewed the academic literature on leadership. From this research, we identified 17 discrete sets of behaviors, which we grouped into six categories (or “traits”), all of which are equally important and mutually reinforcing. We then built a 360-degree assessment tool for use by followers to rate the presence of these traits among leaders. The tool has now been used by over 3,500 raters to evaluate over 450 leaders. The results are illuminating.

These are the six traits or behaviors that we found distinguish inclusive leaders from others:

Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority.

Humility: They are modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to contribute.

Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots as well as flaws in the system and work hard to ensure meritocracy.

Curiosity about others: They demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek with empathy to understand those around them.

Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others’ cultures and adapt as required.

Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion.

These traits may seem like the obvious ones, similar to those that are broadly important for good leadership. But the difference between assessing and developing good leadership generally versus inclusive leadership in particular lies in three specific insights.

First, most leaders in the study were unsure about whether others experienced them as inclusive or not. More particularly, only a third (36%) saw their inclusive leadership capabilities as others did, another third (32%) overrated their capabilities and the final third (33%) underrated their capabilities. Even more importantly, rarely were leaders certain about the specific behaviors that actually have an impact on being rated as more or less inclusive.

Second, being rated as an inclusive leader is not determined by averaging all members’ scores but rather by the distribution of raters’ scores. For example, it’s not enough that, on average, raters agree that a leader “approaches diversity and inclusiveness wholeheartedly.” Using a five-point scale (ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”), an average rating could mean that some team members disagree while others agree. To be an inclusive leader, one must ensure that everyone agrees or strongly agrees that they are being treated fairly and respectfully, are valued, and have a sense of belonging and are psychologically safe.

Third, inclusive leadership is not about occasional grand gestures, but regular, smaller-scale comments and actions. By comparing the qualitative feedback regarding the most inclusive (top 25%) and the least inclusive (bottom 25%) of leaders in our sample, we discovered that inclusive leadership is tangible and practiced every day.

These verbatim responses from our assessments illustrate some of the tangible behaviors of the most inclusive leaders in the study.

  • Shares personal weaknesses: “[This leader] will openly ask about information that she is not aware of. She demonstrates a humble unpretentious work manner. This puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions, which she values.”
  • Learns about cultural differences: “[This leader] has taken the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, likes/dislikes) and the cultural pillars.”
  • Acknowledges team members as individuals: “[This leader] leads a team of over 100 people and yet addresses every team member by name, knows the work stream that they support and the work that they do.”

The following verbatims illustrate some of the behaviors of the least inclusive leaders:

  • Overpowers others: “He can be very direct and overpowering which limits the ability of those around him to contribute to meetings or participate in conversations.”
  • Displays favoritism: “Work is assigned to the same top performers, creating unsustainable workloads. [There is a] need to give newer team members opportunities to prove themselves.”
  • Discounts alternative views: “[This leader] can have very set ideas on specific topics. Sometimes it is difficult to get an alternative view across. There is a risk that his team may hold back from bringing forward challenging and alternative points of view.”

What leaders say and do has an outsized impact on others, but our research indicates that this effect is even more pronounced when they are leading diverse teams. Subtle words and acts of exclusion by leaders, or overlooking the exclusive behaviors of others, easily reinforces the status quo. It takes energy and deliberate effort to create an inclusive culture, and that starts with leaders paying much more attention to what they say and do on a daily basis and making adjustments as necessary. Here are four ways for leaders to get started:

Know your inclusive-leadership shadow: Seek feedback on whether you are perceived as inclusive, especially from people who are different from you. This will help you to see your blind spots, strengths, and development areas. It will also signal that diversity and inclusion are important to you. Scheduling regular check-ins with members of your team to ask how you can make them feel more included also sends the message.

Be visible and vocal: Tell a compelling and explicit narrative about why being inclusive is important to you personally and the business more broadly. For example, share your personal stories at public forums and conferences.

Deliberately seek out difference: Give people on the periphery of your network the chance to speak up, invite different people to the table, and catch up with a broader network. For example, seek out opportunities to work with cross-functional or multi-disciplinary teams to leverage diverse strengths.

Check your impact: Look for signals that you are having a positive impact. Are people copying your role modeling? Is a more diverse group of people sharing ideas with you? Are people working together more collaboratively? Ask a trusted advisor to give you candid feedback on the areas you have been working on.

Difficult Conversations Can Jump Start Company Innovation

Harley-Davidson was in trouble in the early eighties. The booming popularity of imported Japanese motorcycles cut Harley’s market share from 75 percent to a flickering 25 percent. To protect the homegrown brand’s viability, CEO Vaughn Beals adopted an authoritarian stance modeled after the fearsomely efficient managers at his Japanese competitors.

Beals slashed his workforce by 40 percent, overhauled the manufacturing process, and doubled down on promotional marketing tactics to win back market share and save the HOG. 

Autocratic or authoritarian leadership is sometimes necessary, especially in warlike situations where rapid, decisive action is required under pressure. In other contexts, though, this kind of leadership can kill morale, breed resentment, and handicap success by precluding group input.

In capitalism, the typical workplace is autocratic. We’re conditioned to admire the “enlightened dictator” archetype, like the late Steve Jobs was often perceived to be. But autocratic or authoritarian leadership discourages creative, out-of-the-box thinking and tends to inhibit or overlook the expertise of subordinates. Worst of all, it makes everyone feel bad. And yes, feelings matter. Even to the bottom line.

An alternative to authoritarian leadership: Vulnerability.

What authoritarian leadership is missing is vulnerability. In Dare to Lead,

 author Brené Brown says vulnerable leadership inspires courage. She connects courage so fundamentally with vulnerability that she says the two are inseparable. From my own experience, I have to agree.

At a speaking engagement on a military base, Brown asked special forces for “an example of courage that you’ve seen or witnessed in your life, or that you’ve done yourself, that didn’t require uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure,” the latter ingredients being her recipe for vulnerability. She says there was silence, until one soldier replied, “Three tours, ma’am. There is no courage without vulnerability.”

Brown told CBS This Morning, “Courage is contagious. We can teach it, we can learn it, we can measure it. And we have to create cultures where being armored all the time is not rewarded behavior.”

What vulnerable leadership can do for your company.

Vulnerable leadership requires the ability to sit with uncomfortable or awkward moments without tapping out, deflecting, or otherwise going on the defensive. And the payoff is worth it. When employees feel trust and safety, they find the courage to venture new ideas.

“We’ve chosen to curate a team of talented people we respect and admire and to cultivate a workplace where we can be open with each other and have each others’ backs,” says Dan Gaul, cofounder and CTO of Digital Trends, the nation’s largest and fastest growing independently owned tech publisher.

This quarter has seen a sweep of media industry layoffs, mostly at publishers owned by huge parent companies like Verizon. That kind of cutthroat leadership saves dollars now, but research shows it breeds distrust in the long run. Digital Trends has chosen another way.

“You can’t put a price on trust,” says Gaul. “It automatically incubates better work and sustains morale.” He calls the short and long term payoff of vulnerability “both measurable and substantial.” While other media companies are slashing their workforces, Digital Trends is on a streak of hiring new talent.

Being present in tough conversations takes courage.

New studies show that corny team building exercises don’t work, and worse, they can humiliate and further alienate your staff. Instead of having an employee fall off a chair into team members’ arms, try simply being present with them for authentic conversations, as you would for a spouse, friend or parent.

“Leading with vulnerability is uniquely important when it’s time to make tough decisions,” explains CEO Ian Bell. “Last year, in the process of scaling, we experienced growing pains that led to unusual employee turnover as we evaluated what was working, and what was not. What we learned is that acknowledging the situation head-on with transparency and compassion helped to put our staff at ease, and it allowed us to learn from our mistakes and grow with our team.”

This kind of openness takes courage, because it exposes you to things you may not want to hear. That leads to the kind of internal dissonance Brené Brown calls “rumbling.” But if you’re skilled enough to rumble through the discomfort, it sets an example that can spread throughout the workplace. As Brown notes, it’s contagious to be so courageous. And that courage manifests as creativity and innovation.

Don’t be a wartime CEO if you don’t have to.

A healthy company is made of happy staff members at all levels. And while it’s true that extreme situations, like Harley-Davidson’s in the early 1980s, call for decisive authoritarian action, that’s not sustainable. Take off the armor and dare to be vulnerable with your team. The rewards will be long lasting.

Mistakes Happen: Lean on Your Professional Community and Recover From a Career Misstep

Recognize that you are not alone. More than half (55%) of all professionals admit to having made an interview or career fumble, so don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake. Some of the most common fumbles include:

  1. Not being prepared for an interview
  2. Forgetting to respond to an email
  3. Oversleeping
  4. Forgetting to follow up after a meeting
  5. Mispronouncing a word during an interview
  6. Accidentally replying all

Offer an apology. Most (53%) agree that apologizing is the best way to recover from an interview or career fumble. If you recognize the mistake in the moment, apologize right away. Otherwise, apologize as soon as possible to those affected. In the instance of typos, especially when applying to a job or sending a follow-up note to a prospective employer, apologizing and sending a correction shows that you are accountable and able to recognize and fix mistakes as they occur. Although it may feel awkward, a sincere apology is usually well received.

Ask for advice. If you don’t know how to fix the fumble, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your professional community. Where should you turn? The majority of working professionals have sought help from someone at work — either their boss (27%) or a co-worker (46%) — while another 29% found help from a connection outside the office. In addition to helping you determine the best ways to recover, your community can help you play through the pain. You might discover that someone you know made the same fumble themselves — and lived to tell the tale!  

Commit to “fixing” the error. Once you’ve evaluated what went wrong and apologized, figure out how to ensure it doesn’t happen again and go a step further if you can. For instance, if you fumbled an interview question, email the hiring manager additional thoughts on how you should have tackled the topic. Many professionals (29%) say the best way to recover from a fumble is to educate yourself on the issue, so commit to being better prepared next time around.

Whether you’re in the market for a new job or looking to grow in your current role, leaning on your professional community can help you recover, learn and grow in your career. Have a career fumble that you’ve learned from? Join the conversation on LinkedIn. After all, we’re all #InItTogether.

How to Work When You Really Don’t Feel Like It

Procrastination hurts. Hitting next episode on Netflix can provide momentary relief, but it’s a fleeting high. Whether you’re avoiding a sink full of dishes, a new presentation deck, or a date with the treadmill, delay has the power to transform a simple task into a Mount Everest of a to-do list.

Research shows that in the long term, procrastination significantly decreases our health, wealth, and happiness. For example, in a survey of 10,000 people by Carleton University’s Procrastination Research Group, 94 percent of respondents said that procrastination negatively affects their happiness. A full 19 percent said the effect is extremely negative.

The flip side of procrastination is motivation. According to Psychology Today, “motivation is literally the desire to act and move toward a goal.” When you’re building a business, that desire is essential — and it can also be infuriatingly evasive.

But success doesn’t always start with extraordinary motivation. Just like a snowball gathering speed, sometimes motivation builds after we begin. I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand. For example, I’m not a highly motivated person. I don’t leap out of bed at 6 am, I don’t love swinging kettle bells, and I don’t read 100 books a year.

Yet, I’ve slowly grown my startup, JotForm, into a company with over 4.3 million users and 130 employees. I usually manage to squeeze in a daily workout as well.

My point? Accomplishing our goals simply doesn’t require consistent motivation. We can achieve big things, even when we don’t feel like doing the day-to-day tasks.

End the destructive cycle of procrastination.

Avoidance gradually increases our anxiety, making us even more likely to procrastinate, and then the pattern escalates. To end this vicious cycle, it’s important to identify why we’re dodging a specific activity.

Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins, co-authors of “Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World to Power Success and Influence,” explain that motivational focus affects how we approach life’s challenges. “Promotion-focused people see their goals as creating a path to gain or advancement and concentrate on the rewards that will accrue when they achieve them,” Grant Halvorson and Higgins write in Harvard Business Review.

“Prevention-focused people, in contrast, see their goals as responsibilities, and they concentrate on staying safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they don’t work hard enough or aren’t careful enough.”

These two types can also affect how we procrastinate. Prevention-focused avoidance is about preventing a loss. For example, you need to hire your first employee, but you’re worried about choosing the wrong person. A mis-hire would drain time and money, so you postpone the process entirely.

Promotion-focused procrastination occurs when we see a task as a way to level up, but we still can’t summon the drive to get started. For example, you might believe that yoga would offset some entrepreneurial stress, but you reach for an espresso every morning instead of the mat.

Clearly, our emotions are tangled up in both promotion and prevention focus. On either side of the equation, the “feeling like it” part becomes a slippery slope. But as Melissa Dahl wrote in a 2016 article for The Cut: “You don’t have to feel like getting something done in order to actually get it done.”

Let that soak in for a moment. When you’d rather visit the dentist than tackle analytics or spreadsheets, cut your feelings out of the equation. Decide in advance exactly where and when you’ll dig in and then forget about emotions. Don’t think about it or weigh the pros and cons. If you planned to start at 3 pm, simply start. Commit to the schedule you created.

Harness the power of momentum.

Every morning, I spend at least an hour writing morning pages. This daily routinecreates motivation for my day. I don’t summon the inspiration for this practice; I just do it, and then I start to feel excited about the projects ahead.

Once we take even the tiniest step forward, momentum will soon keep you rolling. That’s because sustained momentum toward a goal creates a compound effect — the principle that consistent, incremental effort can produce dramatic changes over time.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett is one of the world’s most successful investors, and the third-wealthiest person on the globe. He also provides a prime case study in the compound effect.

Between age 32 and 44, Buffett grew his net worth by 1,267 percent. That’s a pretty impressive number, until you look at his next 12 years. From 44 to 56, he increased his net worth by a staggering 7,268 percent. He built his chain of investments, and never looked back.

Click “Read More” for the full article.

As Your Team Gets Bigger, Your Leadership Style Has to Adapt

Back when our Facebook design team still fit around a conference table, a new designer joining our merry band was a momentous event. Everyone loved sitting down and showing her how we worked —where we kept our design files, what tools to download, which meetings to attend. We were grateful that someone else had come to help us accomplish more together. Two pizzas were still enough to feed everyone.

A few months later, another person would join. And another. And another. Each time, new faces were introduced to the current team and our existing processes.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, I realized that the old way of doing things was no longer working. The turning point was walking into a design critique and noticing that our regular room didn’t have enough seats for everyone. We found more chairs, but 10 people wanted to share their projects — and we only had time for five or six.

Meanwhile, my own days were getting squeezed. There were more unexpected issues, more announcements to communicate, more decisions to keep track of. This pattern kept repeating itself. As soon as I figured out a better process, a few more people would join and the gears would get clogged once more. The only way to stay effective was to constantly change and adapt.

At each of these points, I felt like I had an entirely different job. While the core principles of management stayed the same, the day-to-day changed significantly.

People often ask me what’s different about my job now than when I started. Looking back, these are the five most striking contrasts between managing small and large teams:

Direct to Indirect Management. If your team is five people, you can develop a personal relationship with each individual where you understand the details of their work, what they are good at, and maybe even the hobbies they enjoy outside the office.

If your team is 30 people, you can’t manage them all directly, at least not to the same degree. If you did weekly 30-minute one-on-ones with everyone, that alone would take 15 hours — nearly half of the workweek. Add in time to follow up on any action items, and you’d barely be able to do anything else. When I got to more than eight reports, I started to feel like I didn’t have enough hours in the day to support everyone well while also thinking about hiring, ensuring high-quality design work, and contributing to product strategy.

This is why managers of growing teams eventually start to hire or develop managers underneath them. But this means you’re further removed from the people and the work on the ground. You’re still responsible for your team’s outcomes, but you can’t be in all the details. Decisions will be made without your input, and things will be done differently than how you might personally do them.

At first, this can feel disorienting, like you’re losing control. But empowering your people is a necessity. One of the biggest challenges of managing at scale is finding the right balance between going deep on a topic and stepping back and trusting others to take care of it. As a team grows, learning to give this trust is essential.

People Treat You Differently. Some years ago, when my team had grown beyond the point where I knew everybody personally, I attended a review where three designers presented their latest work. I gave them my feedback. Before we ended, I asked if there were any thoughts or questions about what I had said. Everyone shook their heads No. I left thinking that it was a good and productive meeting.

Later in the day, I saw one of my direct reports who looked upset. “I caught up with the team and they’re not feeling good about the review this morning,” he told me. I thought he was joking. “What? Why?” “They didn’t agree with your feedback,” he said. “But why didn’t they tell me that?” I asked incredulously. My subordinate paused. “Well Julie, you’re kind of a big deal — they were intimidated.”

It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone refer to me as “kind of a big deal.” It was hard to compute. When did I become the kind of person who intimidated others? I’d always prided myself on my approachability.

What I learned is that it didn’t matter how I saw myself. When people don’t know you well and see that you’re in a position of authority, they’re less likely to tell you the ugly truth and challenge you when they think you’re wrong, even if you’d like them to. They might think it’s your prerogative to call the shots. They might not want to disappoint you or have you think badly of them. Or they might be trying to make your life easier by not burdening you with new problems or imposing on your time.

Be aware of this dynamic. Are your suggestions being taken as orders? Are your questions coming off as judgements? Are you presuming that things are rosier than they really are because you’re not hearing the full story?

Happily, there are some countermeasures you can take to make it easier for people to tell you the truth. Emphasize that you welcome dissenting opinions and reward those who express them. Own your mistakes and remind your team that you are human, just like everyone else. Use language that invites discussion: “I may be totally wrong here, so tell me if you disagree. My opinion is….” You can also ask directly for advice: “If you were me, what would you do in this situation?”

When Is the Best Time to Make the Leap From Your Day Job to Entrepreneur?

That means there comes a time when something has to give. Either the dream of entrepreneurship fails, the day job has to end or the individual’s work-life balance suffers. If you are that individual, sooner or later you have to make the decision: When do you transition from a day job to relying solely on your entrepreneurship to make ends meet?

This can be a tough question because there’s no “right time” to make this leap, no one-size-fits-all solution, no checklist to tick off to know, right then and there, that it’s finally time. Certainly there will always be an element of risk, and overcoming it is part of the reward: If you can transition successfully, you’ll know you’ve made it.

But take things slowly because one of the biggest mistakes new entrepreneurs make is jumping into the deep end far too early. No, you don’t have a checklist to know “you’re ready,” but you can still use one to know you’ve “covered the basics.”

Don’t jump until your business revenue is stable.

One or two months of solid performance may make you confident, but you need to know that that performance is not a fluke. Seasonality can change the fortunes of even an established business, and if you’re riding a high from a viral launch or a successful Kickstarter campaign,you may start to plan for the future based on numbers that simply can’t be sustained. 

So, the first thing is to make sure the revenue from your entrepreneurship is stable, month over month, before you quit your stable day job to dedicate yourself to it. Also, don’t forget to factor in the costs of doing business. Example: You might have a successful Etsy store selling jewelry you’ve already made, but you will need to keep buying supplies to keep it up.

Don’t jump until your emergency fund is funded.

Your emergency fund needs to contain enough money for you to survive. In a world where nearly 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, it can be a tall order to save in advance even one month of expenses. It’s even harder as an entrepreneur, because you can’t save just your own living expenses; you need a rainy day fund for your business, as well. 

In business, an emergency fund is called “retained earnings,” but at its heart it’s the same concept. You need enough money on hand for weathering the storm of an economic recession or funding growth from the launch of a new product. 

Don’t rely on business loans, and don’t rely on future predicted revenue. Make sure you have cash on hand. Financial talk show host Dave Ramsey recommends putting aside six months of operating expenses, if that’s at all possible.

Don’t jump until your safety net is in order.

An emergency fund is just one part of a safety net. Raise your hand if your health insurance comes from your day job; or your job offers a 401(k) matching program you use; or you’re eating meals from your company cafeteria. These are intangible benefits you’re going to have to pay for with your business revenue.

Remember, you’ll have to match your own 401(k) contributions to keep them going, or start up an alternate retirement account, like a SEP IRA. Don’t be one of the third of entrepreneurs who’ve done no planning for retirement. Line up healthcare coverage that covers what you need. You don’t need to wait for open enrollment on the healthcare marketplace; changing jobs or income levels counts as a qualifying life event — but you need to make sure the numbers work out.

Don’t jump until your business revenue exceeds that of your day job.

Remember that quitting your day job imeans the loss of the income you get from your day job. Sounds simple, right? Yet too many people make the leap before they’ve really done the math, and end up draining their savings or their emergency fund on standard operating expenses alone. 

If you’re living on the combined revenue of your day job and side business, make sure the revenue from the latter is enough to keep you going before you drop the day job. That means a budget that specifies where your money is going. If the numbers don’t line up, keep growing your business until they do.

Don’t jump until your work/business schedule becomes unsustainable.

Make no mistake, running a business is a very time-consuming lifestyle. Depending on the style of business, you may find yourself working many hours a week on top of your day job just to handle everything. That’s because, as a new entrepreneur, you’ll have to handle those duties yourself, as you won’t have the cash flow to hire employees or contract with freelancers right away.

Eventually, one of three things will happen. You may find your business is suffering because you have to focus on your day job. You may find just the opposite — your day job suffering because you’re spending your time on your business. Or you may dedicate yourself equally to both and find your sanity slipping, working 100-hour workweeks. 

If and when you reach one of these junctures, you’ll need to figure out what is going to break first. Ideally, your investment in your business will win out and you’ll drop your day job. But, if the numbers don’t add up, don’t jump.

You’re Fired! 20 Signs That a Pink Slip is Coming

There are two types of employees. One has a good idea of what they do, who they are, and what position they play in the company. They are savvy. They know the score. They are under no delusions, and will no doubt leave for another job long before they are ever considered as cannon-fodder.

And then there’s the other kind. The guy who could get Gandhi to hate him. The woman who spends most of her day chatting on the phone to friends or doing online shopping. Or the nice chap in sales who is completely oblivious that the recent merger means his job is now obsolete. They all have Ostrich Syndrome. They couldn’t see a pink slip coming if it was 8ft tall and glowing in the dark, screaming “you’re fired!”

You want to avoid being in that second category at all costs. So I’ve compiled a handy list. If you can answer yes to THREE or more of these questions, you may want to think about sprucing up your resume and dry-cleaning your best interview attire.

1. Are you no longer in the loop about, well, anything?

This is a huge telltale sign. Suddenly you’re finding out about company news from the cleaning lady or the new girl in accounting. If you were formally in the know about all things business related, but now suffer from “the company’s doing what??!” disease, the writing is probably on the wall.

2. Did you recently screw up big-time?

We’re not talking a minor faux pas here. Did you lose money on an account that was previously bulletproof? Oh dear. Were you caught having sex on the boss’s desk with the boss’s spouse? That’s probably not a career-enhancing move. Unless you’re a real dope, you know if you have screwed up. And if you know, HR knows. It may not be the final nail in your coffin, but it’s a nail in the coffin nonetheless.

3. Are people avoiding you at all costs?

Eye contact is difficult to make with someone if you know his or her head’s on the chopping block. Small talk is just as tough. It’s best just to avoid that person altogether. So if people are no longer doing that fun “stop ‘n’ chat” in the hall, or the coffee room empties when you arrive, then guess what…you may be a marked man or woman.

4. Did your last performance review read like a train wreck?

Most of the time, a performance review is a whole bunch of niceties. The boss really doesn’t want to say anything TOO good, because everyone has room for improvement. But generally, they praise within reason and avoid anything too negative. So if your review paints you as a stupid version of Homer Simpson with less talent than a Backstreet Boy, well, that tap on the shoulder is coming.

5. Has your company recently been sold or merged?

This is rarely good news for about 90% of the staff. Sure, management is fine. After all, they negotiated the deal. But whether you were sold or merged, the outcome is the same…changes will be made across the board. A merger means duplication of many jobs. Duplication = redundancy. Being sold means new management, and they always have new plans for the company. New plans that includes cutbacks and layoff. Basically, watch your back if there’s a new name on the front door.

6. Are you being given impossible jobs with no chance of success?

This one is underhanded, which is why it’s so popular. The company may need a big reason to give you the boot, especially if you’ve done everything right and are the life and soul of your department. Enter the impossible task. “Ahh Wilkins, we need you to expand our new line of warm, alcohol-free beers to construction workers.” “Johnson, how’s that line of umbrellas doing in the new L.A. store?” You get the picture. If you’ve been given a thankless task, at least be thankful for the blatant tip-off that you’re about to be let go.

7. Do you now have less responsibility than the intern?

Ouch. Being stripped of your responsibilities is a sure-fire sign that there’s something unpleasant on the horizon. After all, you don’t fire someone who’s got a ton of important work to do, with loads of people underneath him/her. So, over time the poor sucker in management’s sights will be given a new job title, less work, less people (or no people) and will eventually have a hard time finding anything of any real value to do all day. Not long after this, that same employee will be out on the street. In fact, if you’re at work and have enough time to read this article, you may very well be in the firing line.

8. Has your office, cubicle or working space recently been down-sized?

Remember poor old Milton in Office Space being moved from one small space to another, until he was eventually sat in the dark, in the basement, dealing with pest problems. Well, this is not so far from the truth. When employees are in the firing line, it’s a lot easier to move them around and downsize their environment without worrying about their morale. If you are reading this in your new 6ft by 6ft cubicle with no lights on a 1999 PC with a 200MB hard drive, you’re not exactly a valued employee any more.

Click Read More for More Signs.

5 Ways to Keep Yourself Inspired to Achieve Your Goals

The daily routine, and even drudgery, of life sometimes beats our dreams out of us, a little bit at a time. Before we know it, we’ve lost the drive we once propelled us to achieve our goals.

Inspiration is what drives creativity, innovation and progress of all types. Inspired people design a better mousetrap, create iconic works of art and lead businesses that radically transform marketplaces. One of the best ways to keep making consistent progress is to keep the fires of inspiration stoked. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this. Start with the following five tips.

1. Use inspirational quotes.

We tend to accept and mirror back the qualities, ideas and traits that we see around us every day. That being the case, sometimes all it takes to stay inspired is to expose ourselves to a few inspiring words on a daily basis.

Take a page from Jeff Bezos’s book and stick printed copies of your favorite motivational quotes on the refrigerator. You can also put inspiring quotes or affirmations on sticky notes around your desk, on your mirror, or on your computer monitor.

2. Make a list of your reasons.

Reaching a big goal can take a long time and a lot of effort. It’s no wonder that we sometimes feel like we may simply be making life a lot harder for ourselves. Often, the harder we have to work at reaching a big goal, the easier it is for us to lose sight of reasons why we adopted the goal to begin with.

A written list of your reasons for pursuing a specific goal can help you stay motivated and inspired to put in that hard work and keep on striving to grab the brass ring.

When you’re creating your list of reasons behind a specific project or goal, aim to keep the list as long and as emotionally powerful as possible. We may use reason and logic to make decisions, but when it comes to putting in the hours for long-term goals, emotion is what keeps us fired up and motivated.

You could simply create the list and then set it aside. However to make the most out of this tactic, print your list and then schedule personal time each day to meditate on those reasons. By reinforcing your decision each day in this way, you internalize those reasons more and even expand upon them if you like. When you find your motivation waning, pull those reasons out anywhere and at anytime for a quick hit of inspiration.

3. Let others inspire and lead you.

Sometimes, we humans make things more difficult than they need to be. For example, you can struggle through a process or goal on your own, refusing all help — or you can learn from those who have gone before you.

Regularly read biographies and memoirs of people who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles or who attained goals similar to yours. Allow yourself to be inspired by their victories and accomplishments. If they reached the goal, you can, too.

4. Select a physical representation.

In many religions, objects are imbued with specific spiritual meaning and used by the faithful to attain a more peaceful and balanced state of being. Buddhist malas and Catholic rosaries help center and focus the mind, while the Jewish mezuzah serves to sanctify the home and remind those of their relationship with God.

Talismans don’t have to be religious or spiritual, however, in order to be useful. You can use a small, meaningful object to help remind you of the importance of your project or goal. You can use any object of art or decoration, or a piece of jewelry if you prefer, as long as it visually represents for you some aspect of your intention. If you can create one, even better.

Remember, it doesn’t need to speak to anyone else except you. Display it on your desk, on your wall, or somewhere you’ll see it regularly, or leave it in a pocket of your clothing. The key is your association of the object with your goal. It can recharge your inspiration each time you see or touch it.

5. Exercise, meditate and play.

Stress is an inspiration-killer, and one of the best defenses is a complete change of pace, both physically and mentally.

Let yourself wander, both mind and body. For example, even a simple daily walk provides physical exercise and allows your brain to decompress and destress. When you permit your mind to wander, it’s more capable of making creative leaps and generating new, viable ideas.

Finally, don’t let yourself buy into that “all work and no play” ethos. Truly inspired and creative people realize that, as important as hard work is, you also have to fill the well at some point.

Engage in some activity that’s relaxing and fun, without a competitive edge. Woodworking, painting, and even coloring books can be effective outlets to decompress and play, giving a stressed-out mind a chance to breathe and get inspired again.

How to Approach an Office Romance (and How Not To)


Lots of people meet their partners at work, and yet dating someone in the office is often frowned upon. Some companies even have explicit policies against it. So what if you and a colleague have been flirting and might want to explore a relationship? Should you steer clear? Should what’s right from a professional perspective override what’s best for your personal life?

What the Experts Say
There are perfectly good reasons why coworkers fall for one another, says Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. “You spend a tremendous amount of time at work and, if you put people in close proximity, working together, having open, vulnerable conversations, there’s a good chance there are going to be romantic relationships,” he says. Research shows that we also tend to fall for people who are similar to ourselves, says Amy Nicole Baker, an associate professor of psychology at University of New Haven and author of several papers on workplace romance. And “the more familiar you are with the person, the more likely it is that you’ll become attracted to one another,” she says. If you’ve become romantically interested in a colleague, proceed carefully. Here are some things to think about.

Know the risks
Before you act on your feelings, it’s important to think through the risks — and there are quite a few. Of course, there’s the chance that the relationship won’t work out and that there will be hurt feelings on one or both sides. There are also potential conflicts of interest. Markman references the dual relationship principle, an “ironclad rule” in psychotherapy that therapists cannot have any relationships with patients beyond their professional one. Obviously, the same rule doesn’t apply between coworkers — many people are close friends with colleagues, for example — but “having multiple relationships with someone creates potential conflicts of interest that can be hard to resolve,” he explains. If you’re dating your teammate, do you put the team’s or the individual’s interests first? There are also reputational risks. “Your professionalism may be called into question,” says Baker, “especially if people don’t see your motives for entering the relationship as positive.” Some colleagues may think you’re giving your romantic partner preferential treatment or vice versa. “Having a relationship with someone higher up in the organization can create an alternate explanation for why you’re succeeding,” says Markman.

Have the best intentions
If you’re aware of these risks and still want to move forward, research shows that your intentions matter. Your coworkers’ reactions will reflect what they believe your motives to be, says Baker. When they perceive you as having “ego motive” — seeking out the relationship to serve your own needs, whether it’s to get ahead in your company or for your own excitement — they will clearly think of you less favorably. On the other hand, “studies show that coworkers are generally positive if they perceive that you’re falling in love and genuinely care about each other,” she says. So, before you jump in, check your motives and consider how others will perceive them. Having positive intentions at the start may also help guard against hurt feelings and misunderstandings should the romance eventually end.

Know your company’s policies
Many companies prohibit employees from dating coworkers, vendors, customers, or suppliers, or require specific disclosures, so be sure to investigate before you start a relationship. “Follow the rules and try to understand the reasons they’re in place,” Baker says. “You ignore them at your peril.” If you’ve already violated a policy, she suggests you “come clean early” because “the longer you persist, the worse the consequences will be.” Markman says that he’s seen companies “lifting those regulations in recent years both because they’re hard to enforce and they haven’t changed behavior.” For him, this is a positive. “The rules need to recognize the reality of the world and, when it comes to workplace relationships, we want to teach people principles for making good, adult decisions, not to legislate through punishment.” Rules are also evolving because of the #MeToo movement. For example, at Facebook and Google, you can only ask a coworker out once, and if the person says no or gives you an ambiguous response (“Sorry, I’m busy”) you’re not allowed to ask again.

Stay away from your boss and your direct reports
No matter what your intentions are, it’s best not to date your managers or subordinates. “It is a bad idea to get involved with anybody who is in your chain of command — up or down,” says Markman. Baker agrees: ““We know from research that the outcomes aren’t as good; the perceptions are more negative.” That’s because this is where conflicts of interest are most stark. It’s hard to be objective when giving someone you’re dating a performance review, for example. And you don’t want people to think that you’re being unduly favored; it can erode your own confidence and hurt the team’s morale. Both experts acknowledge that boss-employee romances do happen — and sometimes those relationships work out. However, if that’s something you’d like to consider, they suggest you “take action immediately” to transfer to a new boss or reassign your direct report to another team.

Don’t hide it
Both Markman and Baker agree that it’s important to be open about the relationship with your coworkers and boss. This might be tough advice to follow, especially if you’re not sure where the relationship will go. “You don’t have to tell them after the first date,” says Markman, “but letting people know reduces the awkwardness” and increases the likelihood that they’ll be positive about the relationship. Besides, “if you don’t tell anybody, people will still figure it out,” he says. Baker adds that clandestine romances tend to have poorer outcomes and can be “corrosive” to other relationships. “Secrets tend to erode our trust in one another and, when the truth comes out, people are going to feel lied to,” she explains. Keep your disclosure simple and straightforward. You might say something like, “We went on a few dates, but I’m sure you can understand that I don’t want to get into more detail about our personal lives.”

Make sure that your manager is one of the first to be informed. If this feels unnecessary, put yourself in your manager’s shoes, Markman says. Wouldn’t you want to know that two people on your team, or a team member and a colleague from another group, were dating? Then “let your bosses make the call on how to staff you. They may prefer you not work together. By telling them, you’re allowing them to make informed decisions.” Whether or not to tell HR will depend on the company policy and on how much you trust your colleagues in the department to handle the situation. “If you have an HR department that’s good, you might want to have a record, especially if the relationship goes sour,” says Markman. “If your HR dept has a reputation for being all about checking boxes, don’t tell them.” There’s another important caveat: LGBTQ employees may not feel comfortable disclosing a relationship with a coworker, especially since you can still be fired in many states for being gay. “While many workplaces have become more diverse, they haven’t necessarily become more inclusive,” Markman says. “Many people may not feel comfortable talking about their relationships.”

Set boundaries
While you want people to know what’s going on, you don’t have to subject them to your relationship. Baker and her colleagues did research on flirting at work and found in two different studies that “People who frequently witness flirting… report feeling less satisfied in their jobs, and they feel less valued by their company. They’re more likely to give a negative appraisal of the work environment, and they may even consider leaving,” she says. She points out that these are correlations, not causations, but it’s a good argument for avoiding any public displays of affection and remaining professional at all times. “It makes life easier and less uncomfortable for the people around you,” she says. You also want to set up boundaries with your partner. “As unromantic as it may seem, you need to have an open conversation about how to talk about your relationship and how you’ll navigate the risks,” says Markman. We like to believe that “love takes precedent over other things — that’s why there are fewer prenuptial agreements than there should be” but you don’t want to “let work tensions spill into your relationship and vice versa.” Consider having rules about when and how you’ll talk about work — and your relationship — with one another.

If you break up
Of course, not every romance will work out and if you or your partner decide to end things, it’s best to be prepared. There’s no reason to mince words: “It’s going to be very painful,” says Baker, but “you still need to be open about the break up.” Markman agrees: ““If you’ve been telling people about the relationship, keep them updated on the fact that you’re no longer together.” And try to remain as professional as possible. “Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship has said something less than sympathetic about an ex,” says Markman, “but you have to be civil as if nothing ever went wrong and hope that the other person will do the same.” If you find it too awkward or painful to continue working alongside the person, you may need to consider leaving the job or at least transferring to another department. No matter how the relationship turns out, it’s worth following some of Baker’s most simple advice: “The less drama, the better.”

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives

“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve,” Debbie Millman counseled in one of the best commencement speeches ever given, urging: “Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities…” Far from Pollyanna platitude, this advice actually reflects what modern psychology knows about how belief systems about our own abilities and potential fuel our behavior and predict our success. Much of that understanding stems from the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, synthesized in her remarkably insightful Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — an inquiry into the power of our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how changing even the simplest of them can have profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.

One of the most basic beliefs we carry about ourselves, Dweck found in her research, has to do with how we view and inhabit what we consider to be our personality. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way, and success is the affirmation of that inherent intelligence, an assessment of how those givens measure up against an equally fixed standard; striving for success and avoiding failure at all costs become a way of maintaining the sense of being smart or skilled. A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities. Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.

The consequences of believing that intelligence and personality can be developed rather than being immutably engrained traits, Dweck found in her two decades of research with both children and adults, are remarkable. She writes:

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. How does this happen? How can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and, as a result, your life? 

Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset— creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.

[…]

I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser? . . . 

There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.

At the heart of what makes the “growth mindset” so winsome, Dweck found, is that it creates a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval. Its hallmark is the conviction that human qualities like intelligence and creativity, and even relational capacities like love and friendship, can be cultivated through effort and deliberate practice. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situations — they see themselves as learning. Dweck writes:

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

This idea, of course, isn’t new — if anything, it’s the fodder of self-help books and vacant “You can do anything!” platitudes. What makes Dweck’s work different, however, is that it is rooted in rigorous research on how the mind — especially the developing mind — works, identifying not only the core drivers of those mindsets but also how they can be reprogrammed.

Dweck and her team found that people with the fixed mindset see risk and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies, revealing that they come up short in some way. But the relationship between mindset and effort is a two-way street:

It’s not just that some people happen to recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort. Our research has shown that this comes directly from the growth mindset. When we teach people the growth mindset, with its focus on development, these ideas about challenge and effort follow. . . .

As you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another—how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.

[…]

The mindsets change what people strive for and what they see as success. . . they change the definition, significance, and impact of failure. . . they change the deepest meaning of effort.

Dweck cites a poll of 143 creativity researchers, who concurred that the number-one trait underpinning creative achievement is precisely the kind of resilience and fail-forward perseverance attributed to the growth mindset. She writes:

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself. 

In one world, failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential. 

In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.

How to Turn Your Tipping Point Into Lasting, Next-Level Success

If you are in the first few years of your business, plugging along and oh-so-close to a tipping point, read this article and bookmark it for the day you know is coming soon. The day when a massive order finally comes through, you land a press spot for your product on the Today show, a celebrity decides to endorse your services on Instagram, etc. Use your next “big break” of sorts to take your entire operation to the next level.

Anjelah Johnson is a great case study. Though she was primarily focused on her acting career, a video clip of one of her first few stand-up comedy sets unexpectedly went viral. The video quickly amassed millions of views, pushing her to launch a comedy career that is still thriving today. The “Nail Salon” bit launched many stand-up, television and film opportunities and a spot as MADtv as a series regular. On MADtv,she created another internet sensation, “Bon Qui Qui,” an original comedic character viewed and replicated by over 65 million people worldwide. As that beloved character she’s produced sold out tours and released multiple records with Warner Bros. Records. She’s appeared in multiple national commercials, guest-starred on shows such as Ugly Betty and Curb Your Enthusiasm and recorded four, one-hour comedy television specials. It was recently announced that she will star in a new half-hour sitcom from NBC and executive producer Kevin Hart entitled All Fancy, which is based on her life.

All of the above success basically came from one tipping point, during a time when she was a very green comedian without funds or connections. Here are the top few lessons I believe entrepreneurs and creators can learn from her sustained success.

Keep striking while the iron is hot

When Johnson’s video exploded, she immediately went into writing mode since. At the time, she “only had 12 minutes of jokes.” Think of other products or services you could offer that will appeal to your new, larger pool of potential customers. If an influencer gives you an unexpected shoutout, what else do you have that they might love? Send that to them with a thank-you note. If a post or video of yours goes viral, brainstorm similar concepts that will appeal to the same audience and get creating, and fast.

One of the most important things you will want to do right away is create a way to get all of your new admirers into your email database. Make sure all of your opt-ins are functional and GDPR compliant. Create a targeted, valuable opt-in offer or freemium piece of content to get new fans to sign up.

Staff up to sustain growth

Another immediate action item for Johnson was to set up meetings to find an agent and manager to help her navigate the entertainment industry. You may need to hire an assistant, a business manager, an accountant or hourly employees to help you fulfill orders.

When hiring don’t just take care of the immediate need. Instead also consider your long term goal of taking this big break and turning it into lasting income. I loved Johnson’s advice for finding the right people, since now she has a few people working for her brand beyond her agents. “Who is around you? Who has shown an investment in your career, your brand, your dreams, the things that you love? Actively called you [with ideas]? Start assigning them something.”

Remember your bigger purpose

When you reach a big break for your brand or business, things will get hectic. As exciting as it will be, you will also find yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and probably a little unsure. Plus, after the initial excitement wears off, you have to actually do the work of fulfilling that giant order or creating what your proposal outlined or fielding hundreds of new customer questions. Johnson had a bigger purpose, a feeling that her work was a calling, which brought her peace and clarity.

If you are unsure of your purpose, check out Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and narrow down your purpose. Then, Keep that purpose front of mind. Many of my massively successful guests swear by meditation, journaling and/or prayer.

“However it is that you seek out those visions — maybe it’s meditation, maybe it’s prayer, maybe it’s therapy and counseling. However it is, find yourself a space where you can turn off the outside, external circumstances and go deep within yourself and your heart, and give into your own desires,” Johnson explained.

Continue to live a full life outside of work

When the calls are coming in and you can’t keep up with orders, you’ll obviously be excited and energized. You will also probably have no choice to ramp up production to keep up. However, don’t let yourself become consumed, Johnson advised.

“Just keep living. Just keep living your life, because that’s where the ideas come from. You getting up and going with your friends out to a night of cocktails, and then maybe going to a music festival – living and experiencing things is where you get inspired. If you’re just home being like, ‘Okay, what’s my next idea? Let me try to journal, let me sit here and pray, what’s my idea? Let me just scroll through Instagram, what is everybody else doing? I’m tired, so let me just stay home.’ That’s not where inspiration and ideas are going to come from.”

Prioritize relationships …

Johnson shared that she made some relational mistakes during her explosive growth. All industries are small industries and word travels fast. Make sure to slow down and prioritize relationship and communicate politely and professionally with everyone, no matter how swamped you are.  

… especially the fan/customer/cudience relationship

To modify one of my favorite Oprah Winfrey quotes — even when you make it to the limo, you need to remember the fans, customers or clients who were with you on the bus. Continue to make your audience a top priority. I asked Johnson if she got tired of telling the famous “Nail Salon” bit over and over again. Of course she does. “It’s my joke that people want to hear every time. I went through a season where I didn’t want to do it, but I’m kind of in this place now where I respect my fans so much that I understand I am where I am because of them, and this is what they want to hear, so let me give them what they want to here. I enjoy telling the joke again, because I tell it as a gift and not as a burden.”

Focus on what’s working

Johnson’s dream was to be an actor, not a comedian. She followed opportunities and gave her audience what they wanted, which meant leaving acting behind to focus on the crop that was in season, so to speak.

“Right now, stand-up is what’s blooming,” she said. “So, I’m not going to cut this flower or uproot this plant and try to put it over here in this acting world, because when that’s ready, it will start blooming and it will organically grow. I’m not saying don’t study, don’t be prepared, always be prepared. But, where you focus your time and your energy is on what’s growing. There are different seasons. You’re not going to try to grow strawberries when it’s not strawberry season. You’re going to have a harder time. Why don’t you grow cucumbers, because that’s what’s in season right now? That’s what’s going to flourish.”

Want to Be More Successful? Write Better. Here’s How.

I wrote my way up. From an intern to a community manager to an entry-level sales rep to a manager to a senior manager to a director. But when I started out, I didn’t understand what writing was. At least, not in a professional sense. To me, writing was simply a way to communicate basic information. It was short bursts of words starting off with, “FYI…” “Just to let you know…” and “I don’t know if you saw this, but…” It was quick replies to brief questions: “Will do,” “Got it, thanks,” “Understood.” Regardless of if I was indeed going to do something, if I actually did get it, or if anything, at all, was understood. Man, I was lost.

Everything changed when ideas — for better processes, how to motivate the team, and faster ways to scale — began pouring out of me. The only challenge was I had nowhere to go with them. Catching the CEO for a few minutes became harder as we raised new rounds of funding. Conversations over coffee with colleagues was always helpful, but nailing down results that would actually lead to action was difficult. Everyone has ideas, and while that doesn’t mean all ideas are created equal, most ideas will never see the light of day because the one who thinks them often lacks the necessary tools to get them out into the world.

So instead of accepting defeat and grabbing beers with friends only to vent about how, “I have, like, so many ideas, man. So, so many ideas for how to do things differently. You don’t even know…” I wrote an email to the CEO. And when I received a thoughtful reply, encouraging me to move forward with my ideas, I began to write more. And more. And more. I would write emails to the CEO, to other senior employees, and anyone else who I believed could help me put my ideas into action, tell me they needed to be fleshed out, or just that they were garbage, but to keep going. I wrote weekly updates, detailing what was going well and what wasn’t. I surfaced issues threatening the business, paired with solutions, whenever they arose. I wrote it all. Because it was then I discovered that writing isn’t just a way to communicate basic information; writing is the execution of ideas through words. And the more you believe that the more you will be able to change your life in ways you may have never imagined.

“But what if I don’t have ideas?” you may ask. That’s fine because they will come. But even if they don’t, being able to coherently put a sentence together and present it in a way that allows people — e.g. your colleagues, manager, or future employer — to understand your thinking is a foundational skill that, “According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 73.4% of employers want.” Not only that, but, as Jason Fried, Founder of Basecamp, stated in his book, Rework:

If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. Their writing skills will pay off. That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society…Writing is today’s currency for good ideas.

The Best Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Ask for Help

I think of myself as strong.

I see myself as someone who can manage a lot of stress. Who can get a tremendous amount accomplished in a day. Who can work long hours and pull through in clutch moments. Who doesn’t give up in the face of problems, but works tirelessly until they are solved.

I am a leader and most leaders I know feel the same way. We have to — our companies, our employees, our clients, our families — they all rely on us to pull through in the clutch. And we do. Sometimes, in our skillful mastery of pressure, complexity, and accomplishment, we can feel super-human.

But then, on my way to dinner in New York with old friends from high school, my bicycle hit a pothole and stopped abruptly while I flew over the handlebars and slammed head-first into a parked car.

Dazed, bloody, lying on the street, I couldn’t think. Some people nearby came to ask if I was OK, but I didn’t know. They asked if I needed water, but I didn’t know. When I eventually staggered to me feet, they asked if I needed to sit, but I didn’t know.

Looking back on that moment, here’s what I did know with absolute certainty: I am very, very human.

As a leader who advocates vulnerability as a strength, I am surprised to realize that I have, somehow, bought into the notion that I need to be super-human and that any weakness diminishes my leadership.

In fact, I see clearly now that it is precisely the opposite. Not acknowledging our weaknesses is counter-productive for two simple reasons:

One, it’s unsustainable. Life inevitably catches up to us and then, eventually, we must face the inescapable reality that we are human, with weaknesses, flaws, and faults.

Two, it’s poor leadership. Leadership is about connection. People will only follow you, work hard for you, create and risk and sacrifice for you, if they feel connected to you. So here’s my question: Will anyone ever be able to truly connect with you, really trust you, honestly give you their all, if you only reveal to them the parts of you that you think will impress them? How long do you think you can keep that up? How long before they become disillusioned?

In other words, hiding our weaknesses in an attempt to be strong leaders makes us weak leaders. Our vulnerabilities make us most vulnerable when we pretend they don’t exist.

Here’s what’s important to remember: our struggles do not define us any more than our successes do. You are not weak; you have weaknesses. There is a difference.

And from this place of humanness, that can hold both strengths and weaknesses, we can do the most leaderly thing there is: Ask for help.

When I eventually got up and stumbled to dinner, I was greeted by concern and support. My friend Toby got her car, threw my bike in the back and drove me to the emergency room. Pam, Susie, Nicky, and Vicky all came to sit with me at the hospital late into the night.

I was lucky not to be alone that night, and that was thanks to my humanness not despite it.

And needing help — asking for help — is an essential part of being a leader. While I’ve always known this, I’ve also always secretly felt that it’s a leader’s job to help others, not to need help.

But that’s a myth. The reality is that leaders who don’t need help have no one to lead. People feel good when they help. They are inspired when they are needed. They don’t think less of the people they help, they feel more connected.

I am not superhuman. Nor are you. And that’s not only OK, it’s better.

The Daily Schedules of 10 Famous Business Billionaires

What do some of the world’s most famous billionaire business leaders have in common? Clearly, they’re all intelligent, driven, hard-working and have lots of digits in their account balances, but the similarities mostly stop when you compare their daily routines.

If you want to know how long you should sleep, when you should wake up, how long and whether you should work out or other lifestyle choices, you won’t find a consensus among the business elite. What you will find is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of individuals who have more money than most of the people on Earth combined.

Jeff Bezos

The world’s richest man’s daily schedule seems pretty relatable to the common person. Bezos reportedly aims to get eight hours of sleep every day, wakes up without an alarm, then spends his mornings reading the paper with coffee and eating breakfast with his family before heading to Amazon, according to Business Insider. If he has meetings, those tend to begin around 10 a.m.; he tries to keep his afternoons free of meetings. After work, Bezos has dinner with his family then washes the dishes. It’s unclear when he works out, but he clearly does, as evidenced by the famous “Swole” picture of him.

Elon Musk

One of the world’s most famous workaholics surprisingly shoots for six hours of sleep each night. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX wakes up around 7 a.m. and typically skips breakfast, spending the time to respond to emails. He sees his five kids off to school before showering and going to work. Musk infamously blocks his day in five-minute increments, which also includes inhaling lunch. His 85- to 100-hour work weeks are split between Mondays and Fridays at SpaceX in Los Angeles and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Tesla in the Bay Area. It’s unclear when he makes time for his other projects, including The Boring Company and OpenAI. Musk doesn’t take phone calls, instead only responding to email.

Oprah Winfrey

The media mogul typically gets eight hours of sleep before embarking on her peaceful morning routine. She wakes up without an alarm between 6 to 7 a.m. before brushing her teeth and taking her dogs out. She’ll have some tea or coffee before working out and meditating. Winfrey eats breakfast around 8:30 a.m. Her workday (from home if she’s not traveling) starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m., with an hour-long lunch break at 1 p.m. Dinner is at typically at 6, followed by reading. Winfrey ends her day with a bath and writing in a gratitude journal.

Bill Gates

One of America’s favorite retirees maintains a busy schedule with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Microsoft co-founder and former CEO aims to get seven hours of sleep per night and usually skips breakfast. He may go on the treadmill before reading the news. At work, he shares the scheduling philosophy of Elon Musk, breaking his days into five-minute increments. Gates reads a lot, and his nightly ritual is doing household chores, such as washing dishes.

Bring Your Breakthrough Ideas to Life

Peesapaty tried to influence agricultural policies by documenting the problem in government reports, to no avail. So he looked instead for ways to boost demand for millet. He hit on the idea of turning it into “edible cutlery”—a solution that could attack not just the groundwater deficit but also the scourge of plastic waste. Peesapaty quit his job to pursue the project. A decade later, after a video he posted about the cutlery went viral, orders began pouring in. Two crowdfunding campaigns exceeded their targets by more than twelvefold, and the first corporate orders shipped in 2016. It’s too soon to know whether groundwater levels have stabilized. But many farmers have already resumed growing the more sustainable crop, and to further boost production, the government declared 2018 the National Year of Millets.

As Peesapaty’s story demonstrates, there are two potential routes to any solution: conformity (in this case, trying to use established channels to affect policy) and originality. The first is adequate for many everyday challenges. But for thornier problems, more-divergent thinking may be required.

As academics with a long-standing interest in attention, sense making, innovation, and digital transformation, we have spent the past decade researching pioneering thinkers and changemakers in a wide range of fields, from entrepreneurs to medics to chefs. Our work with corporate clients has included running top-team innovation workshops, leading full-scale acceleration programs, and orchestrating enormous transformation journeys. We have also interviewed and surveyed hundreds of executives involved in innovation efforts. Through these efforts we have identified recurrent patterns in the evolution of breakthrough ideas and constructed a five-part framework for developing them and ensuring their survival.

Unconventional thinkers focus their attention closely and with fresh eyes, step back to gain perspective, imagine unorthodox combinations, experiment quickly and smartly, and navigate potentially hostile environments outside and within their organizations. The challenge throughout is to overcome biases and mental models that may constrain creativity or doom a great idea.

In this article we’ll describe the five elements of the framework and explore how digital tools can augment them. But first let’s look at why game-changing innovation remains so difficult despite organizational and societal pressure for transformative results.

The Elusiveness of Breakthrough Innovations

The digital advances of the past two decades have enabled a much broader population than ever before to express creative intelligence. Unconventional thinkers the world over have unprecedented access to the distributed knowledge, talents, capital, and consumers they need to create a start-up or a movement around a great idea. Innovation has been thoroughly democratized.

And yet breakthrough offerings remain hard to come by. Apart from the transformation of services powered by mobile apps and the internet, we have not seen spectacular surges of innovation across sectors. The economists Tyler Cowen and Robert Gordon have spoken of innovation stagnation. The business thinker Gary Hamel notes that corporations are awash in ideas that fall into one of two buckets: incremental no-brainer or flaky no-hoper. And in our consulting work with innovation teams we see many promising ideas become superficial, narrow, or skewed—or perish altogether.

The lack of progress is surprising given that companies have an improved understanding of the innovation process, driven in large part by design thinking and lean start-up methodologies. Terms such as “user centered,” “ideation,” and “pivot” have become commonplace and have changed the way business leaders think about creating new offerings. Yet for all this guidance, only 43% of corporations have what experts consider a well-defined process for innovation, according to the research firm CB Insights.

When we talk with entrepreneurs and executives about existing innovation frameworks, their criticisms center on three overlapping issues. First, the models are unrealistic: The still-influential waterfall, or stage-gate approach, for example, is overly linear, with little regard for the constant zigzagging between activities that may be called for. Elmar Mock, a serial entrepreneur who co-created the Swatch, put it this way in a 2016 podcast: “The very natural instinct for an innovator is to move in a nonlinear way, to go from concepts to know-how back to concept, to relook for new know-how, to change the concept again.” Second, the models are incomplete: They don’t incorporate the digital aspect of innovation or show how it relates to the “humancentric” principles enshrined in design thinking. They emphasize action and fast iteration (pillars of the lean start-up methodology), but in doing so they tend to downplay what Wharton’s Adam Grant calls strategic procrastination—allowing yourself time for deep reflection. Third, the models are misleading: They gloss over the pitfalls and biases that may constrain creativity. And by focusing so intensely on users, they minimize the roles of other stakeholders and the need for inventiveness in mobilizing support to establish and deploy novel offerings.

Regarding this last point, executives recognize that to devise ingenious innovations, they must break paradigms and shift mindsets—but when it comes to delivery, they often lapse into standard ways of thinking. Consider the failed Sony Reader. All the creativity that went into its development was undone by a lack of originality in execution. Sony neglected to enlist the book publishing industry as an ally—a mistake Amazon did not make when it launched the technically inferior but hugely successful Kindle, 14 months later. To make your stellar innovation thrive, approach unconventional partners, identify underutilized channels, and invent new business models. Put as much creative energy into introducing and delivering offerings as you did into generating them. Sony engineered an elegant device, but Amazon designed an original solution.

Our framework complements design thinking, lean start-up, the business model canvas, and other innovation strategies. It is more accepting of the messiness inherent in developing a truly breakthrough solution, recognizing that the activities involved relate to one another in unpredictable, nonlinear ways. The elements of our framework are not unique, but collectively they capture the full scope and reality of the innovation process, including the critical role of reflection in conceiving opportunities and the level of organizational reinvention needed in the final push to market.

Let’s turn now to those five elements.

Attention: Look Through a Fresh Lens

Attention is the act of focusing closely on a given context to understand its dynamics and latent needs. The trouble is that expertise often interferes, directing people’s attention and unconsciously blinding them to radical insights. The French call this déformation professionnelle: the tendency to observe reality through the distorting lens of one’s job or training. To combat that bias, question what perspective drives your attention and what you may be missing as a result.

Take the case of Billy Fischer, a U.S. infectious disease expert who regularly traveled to rural Guinea to fight the Ebola epidemic. In May 2014 he saw that the recommended approach was not working: The local treatment facility was focused on containing the spread by isolating anyone exposed to the virus, but people were hiding to avoid being quarantined. Talking with patients, Fischer realized that the problem was fear: The mortality rate for patients in quarantine was 90%—so people understandably saw it as a death sentence. He insisted that the clinic prioritize patient recovery instead. Testing new treatment combinations, he and his colleagues slashed mortality rates to 50%, reversing the negative perception of quarantine and thus helping to stem the contagion.

By setting aside your preconceptions, you become a sharper observer of what people say and do. This changes not just how you pay attention but also whom you pay attention to—and previously unconsidered niche populations often reveal unsuspected pain points. The toy group Lego learns a lot from the frustrations of its adult enthusiasts, the cleaning-products giant S.C. Johnson from observing hygiene-obsessed OCD sufferers, and IKEA from trying to understand what “IKEA hackers,”  who customize and repurpose the furniture maker’s goods, are “trying to tell us about our own products.”

Digital technologies allow the tracking of behavior on a much larger scale than was previously possible, offering complementary ways of detecting tacit needs. In health care, for instance, researchers are studying the lived experience of Parkinson’s disease by having volunteers use their smartphones to measure tremors (thanks to the function that captures portrait and landscape views), muscle tone (the microphone indicates the strength of the patient’s voice box), involuntary movements (the touch screen records them), and gait (if the phone is in a pocket, it senses the patient’s unsteadiness). The researchers can thus track the efficacy of medication not just before and after dosing but over time. And they get a rich picture of what participants actually do, as opposed to what they say they do.

Cyberspace can also help companies identify expert users in their practice communities. Medical device companies could glean insights from the online forums of “body hackers”—people who implant microchips, magnets, LED lights, and other technology in themselves with the aim of augmenting human capabilities. Inspired by that ethos, Medtronic is considering how its pill-sized pacemaker could be enhanced and implanted in healthy people to give them biometric feedback and improve their lifelong care.

Companies can use digital technology to engage with trendsetters directly or eavesdrop on user forums and blogs for clues about evolving needs. In 2009 Nivea conducted an online analysis, or “netnography,” of discussions about deodorant use across 200 social media sites. Contrary to expectations, the key preoccupation was not fragrance, effectiveness, or irritation but the staining of clothes. This insight paved the way for a new category of antistain deodorants in 2011, the most successful launch in the company’s 130-year history. In the public sector, online media analysis is being used to explore issues such as exercise, generic drugs, and—in an effort to improve health care social workers’ interventions—resistance to vaccination.

Digital technologies can’t replace direct observation, of course. But they expand the number and type of insights generated, providing access to a wealth of unfiltered and unstructured user-generated content that people can then make sense of.

Perspective: Step Back to Expand Your Understanding

Having zoomed in to gather insights about a situation, a need, or a challenge, you must then pull out to gain perspective, fighting against framing and action biases that might encourage you to accept the issue as presented and rush into problem solving.

To process what you have learned, detach: Change activities, or take a strategic break. During his third attempt to circle the globe by balloon, in 1999, the Swiss psychiatrist and adventurer Bertrand Piccard was obsessed by fuel conservation. After completing the exploit, with barely any liquid gas to spare, he realized that he had spent his 20 days aloft in constant fear of running out. As he waited (for half a day) to be picked up from the Egyptian desert, it dawned on him that the core problem was not how to manage fuel but how to manage without fuel. Redefining the issue in this way set the stage for his next circumnavigation challenge—in a fully solar-powered plane.

Ask “What if we no longer did what we do now?” to help identify opportunities.

His insight occurred only after Piccard stepped back. It’s not easy to prime yourself for inspiration while you’re in the thick of action. Consider the pioneering chef Ferran Adrià, who melded haute cuisine, art, and science; generated more than 1,800 signature dishes over 20 years; and earned his restaurant, El Bulli, the rating of “world’s best” a record five times. The key to his creativity, Adrià once explained to HBR, was closing his restaurant for six months each year. “The pressure to serve every day doesn’t offer the kind of tranquility necessary to create as we would like,” he said. “The most important thing is to leave time for regeneration.” This mindset is reflected in the Japanese concept ma, which stresses that space is necessary for growth and enlightenment.

 

7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distractions

We’ve all been there. Even with the best of intentions to stay on task, we still catch ourselves scrolling through social media when we should be working on a project. We can’t help but grab our cell phone the moment we hear a notification. And then there’s email! If we aren’t checking it every five minutes, we worry we might miss something important.

Distractions can seem impossible to avoid. Statistics show that distractions cause a massive loss in productivity. The typical manager is interrupted every eight minutes, and employees generally spend 28 percent of their time dealing with unnecessary interruptions and trying to get back on track.

So, how can you take back control of your time and attention? Here are seven proven strategies for overcoming distractions and reclaiming your focus.

1. Put yourself in distraction-free mode.

Begin building habits that help you eliminate distractions and stay focused. Start by creating an environment in which you’re less tempted to get preoccupied with something other than what you’re working on. This isn’t always easy to do. For one, many of us rely on a computer to do our work, but we also find our biggest distractions enabled by the use of a computer on the internet. If you constantly find yourself wandering over to video or shopping websites, try using a website blocker app.

Work to create habits that signal to yourself and those around you that you’re in distraction-free mode. Close the door to your office. Put on noise-canceling headphones. Turn off your phone or put it on silent and move it away from you (so you can’t easily pick it up). If you work in an open office, you may find it helpful to move to a quieter location. Studies have found that distractions happen 64 percent more often in an open office, and we’re interrupted by others more often in that environment as well.

Remove as many excuses and distractions as you can so you can bring your full attention to one task at a time — no multitasking.

2. Set three main objectives every day.

A long list of things to do can feel insurmountable and leave us feeling overwhelmed. We’re ready to give up before we start, and that’s when it becomes easy to give in to distractions. You can offset this by giving yourself 3 objectives to accomplish every day. Write them on a sticky note and post it where you can see it every time you look up from your work.

By limiting the number of daily goals, you’ll have clearly defined what you need to work on. You’ll work with greater intention on those tasks and your mind will be less apt to stray.

Ask yourself every morning: What are the three most important things to accomplish today? Any other tasks should be put on a separate to-do list. You can begin to tackle those less-important tasks once you’ve accomplished the first 3 goals.

3. Give yourself a shorter time frame.

More hours worked doesn’t mean you necessarily get more things accomplished. Parkinson’s law says that “work tends to expand to fill the time we have available for its completion.” And the thing is, we usually fill any time remaining with distractions. This is because our mind is wired to conserve energy whenever possible. If we don’t have to do something, there’s a good chance we won’t do it. Instead, we’ll allow ourselves to get sucked into a YouTube video or a game app on our phone.

On the other hand, when we’re up against a deadline, we suddenly develop a laser-like focus and avoid distractions at all costs. When you know you have to get something done, you’ll figure out a way to do it.

To eliminate distractions, give yourself a shorter time frame to finish your work. This is like giving yourself an artificial deadline, but backed up with something that holds you accountable. Tell your boss or client that you’ll give them a draft of a project by the end of the day. Find an accountability partner who will hold you to your target time frame. However you do it, setting a hard deadline will help you avoid distractions and amp up your productivity.

4. Monitor your mind wandering.

We spend nearly 50 percent of our waking time thinking about something other than what we’re supposed to be doing, according to one Harvard study. We are on autopilot, and our mind is wandering, in part to avoid the effort of focusing on something. The key to heightened productivity is to notice when your mind is distracted and bring your attention back on task.

This means paying attention to your thoughts and recognizing when your mind starts drifting. This allows you to manage what you focus on and redirect your thoughts when you slip up. Instead of allowing yourself to keep meandering over to social media to check out your newsfeed, you actively put the brakes on this distraction.

Pay attention to what distractions are particularly hard to avoid, so you can catch them sooner. When you feel a desire to give in to a distraction, take a breath and purposely choose not to react to it. Once you’ve given in and allowed yourself to focus on something else, like reading emails, it’s harder to regroup and bring your attention back to the task at hand.

In short, be mindful of your thoughts, instead of allowing yourself to skip between task and distraction.

5. Train your brain by making a game out of it.

Your mind is like a muscle. In order to use it effectively, you need to build it up. We need to train our brains to stay focused by gradually working on our concentration. This will strengthen our ability to focus for longer periods of time.

A great way to begin doing this is through the “Pomodoro Method,” in which you set a timer and are completely focused on a task for a period of time, such as 45 minutes straight. Then allow yourself a 15-minute break.

If 45 minutes is a stretch, start with something more manageable, such as 25 minutes, and then give yourself a five-minute break. The idea is to make a game of it — challenge yourself to work diligently on your task until the timer rings. Then allow yourself to gorge on whatever distraction you want, but only for an allotted time.

After the break, it’s back to work again until the timer rings. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done using this method!

3 Ways Emotionally Powerful People Succeed in 2019

The new year is nearly upon us, and it’s time for the accumulated wisdom of coaches, experts and other non-gurus and gurus to well up out of the collective consciousness and onto the page. The dark days draw near and it is getting cold in the northern hemisphere. Holiday grumpiness and cheer are upon us, and it is the best of times and the worst of times. It’s the old man and the baby, and pretty soon the spring holidays, after Valentine’s Day, then Mother and Father’s Day, Halloween, etc. And it’s New Year’s Eve.

Ringing ahead

2019 is a year before 2020, and you can bet it will be a doozy. They say that hindsight is 2020, but my wish for the New Year is for 2020 foresight.

Enough of this madness. With that in mind, I’m sharing some off-the-cuff thoughts that have just popped into my head. What does it mean to be emotionally powerful, and what does it take? Our strengths, our fears, and other people.

1. Self-efficacy. Research shows that a sense of self-efficacy, more than self-esteem, is at the heart of success. In performance and in couples work, providing esteem-support led to greater self-efficacy. Esteem support from our partners drives self-efficacy by reenforcing effort and highlighting our wins, focusing on our strengths and capabilities, joining us in seeing things from our point of view, and by helping to sooth failure and self-criticism. We can provide many of these functions for ourselves, activity biasing what we look for in ourselves, what we make most salient, toward the positive.

This does not mean getting rid of anything negative, because we need all of ourselves, eventually. But it does mean engaging in resistance against the basic human tendency to give more weight to negative information in the environment, a holdover from evolution which allows us to scan preferentially for threats. Unfortunately, despite what it may feel like, on average the world is much less threatening than it was millions of years ago when our species was in its youth, and much of what we fear is constrained by belief and perception rather than actual danger. Unfortunately in human society, what we make of things can become reality—all the more reason to partner with yourself to bolster self-efficacy by providing your own esteem support, and making sure others around you do the same as much as possible.

2. Mastery of vulnerability. Curiosity, the ability to tolerate and even bask in uncertainty, and the capacity to contain and reflect upon strong emotional states without resorting to repetitive problematic reactive behaviors to provide relief allow one to sit with their own worst demons. Naturally, it isn’t always so melodramatic or hyperbolic, and there is real joy to be found from tenderness toward oneself, grounded in self-compassion, kindness and patience with oneself. Watch out for self-blame for not being kind enough to oneself, however, which can sneak in. Compassion hits the reset button for self-induced distortion, allowing us to let go of what we don’t need and can’t use.

Since we may all from time to time give ourselves a hard time, it makes sense to receive it with poise, curiosity, and to ask ourselves how we are feeling, where is the anger coming from, and note it is OK to feel disappointment as well as optimism for oneself. As long as we are paying some attention to what is going on and not suppressing or avoiding too much, we can catch issues as early as we can. Being vulnerable means being imperfect, and embracing oneself. If you start calling yourself names, lazy, an idiot, (please stop) etc., time to slow waaaay down and say “What’s going on?”

Skipping blame isn’t a way to shirk responsibility or skirt around the issues, but it is important to differentiate responsibility which comes from our core values from feeling at fault as a result of feelings operating out of awareness, such as shame and blame. When we are attuned to our own strengths and vulnerabilities, when other people bring up provocative subjects, we can stay balanced and responsive.  If we are comfortable feeling vulnerable, we maximize what we can learn from experience. The problem with being non-judgmental is that it can mess with your judgment.

3. Compassionate empathy with & for others. The third pillar is relationship. Relationships often seem very complicated to us, and human emotions too hard to untangle. This is often for two reasons, first because we are “too close” to the situation, and so our own emotional involvement blinds us to what would be straightforward if we were consulted on by a friend. Second, we aren’t well-educated about what emotions are, how they work, and how to integrate thoughts and emotions into a coherent, resilient whole. It’s simpler than it may seem, as we like to make ourselves more complicated than we actually are. Mysteries are alluring, necessary, but sometimes dangerously misleading phantasm.

What else?

When we are comfortable with our own self-efficacy, and can sustain it ourselves for a period of time because we have internalized a good-enough caregiver part of ourselves, and we can deal with whatever our own vulnerability can throw at us, we become amazing listeners. Not only can we tolerate having less air time, we may even come to feel that speaking with urgency is less effective than showing what we think through our actions as well as our words. It takes time to know what we really think and feel, as it’s pretty much a good rule to follow that initial thoughts and impressions, which valuable, and not infallible. Understanding takes time, meaning grows at its own pace sometimes, and emotions in particular often come out in repeating sequences which require time to grasp as they go by so fast we may miss the evolution in our own minds.

Why You Should Stop Setting Easy Goals

But the assumption that employees are more likely to welcome lower goals doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In fact, our research indicates that in some situations people perceive higher goals as easier to attain than lower ones — and even when that’s not the case, they still can find those more challenging goals more appealing.

In a series of studies we describe in our latest paper, we tested how people perceive goals by asking participants on Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace, known as Mechanical Turk, to rate the difficulty and appeal of targets set at various levels and across spheres from sports performance and GPA to weight loss and personal savings. We asked about both “status quo” goals, in which the target remained set at a baseline level similar to recent performance, and “improvement goals” in which the target was set higher than the baseline by varying degrees.

What makes a goal seem hard to achieve?

In our first study, we recruited a couple of hundred participants on Mechanical Turk and split them into five groups. We showed one group just status quo goals — for example, achieving the same GPA as the previous semester. We showed the other four groups improvement goals that reflected either small, moderate, large or very large gains over the current baseline.

For the various improvement goals, as you would expect, our subjects perceived higher targets as more difficult to achieve and lower targets as less difficult (4.01 versus 2.82 on a scale of difficulty from 1 to 7). But, surprisingly, participants rated the status quo goal as more difficult (3.23) than the small-increase goal — in fact, just a bit less than a moderate one (3.49).

To learn why, in our second study, we asked participants to give reasons for their ratings of modest improvement and status quo goals. The group that evaluated the modest goals tended to write about the gap between the status quo and the goal and how small it was, which led to them to be optimistic about their success. Meanwhile, the group that evaluated the maintenance goals listed more reasons for failure based on context and was more pessimistic.

From this and a subsequent study, we concluded that when people are given a status quo goal, they’re more sensitive to the context for achieving it than when they’re given an improvement goal — and that’s all the more true if the context is already unfavorable. Think about it this way: When we’re judging the difficulty of a goal, the first thing our brains see is the size of the gap that separates the goal from the baseline. The bigger the gap, the more difficult the goal, as logic would suggest. Only later do we begin to consider the context in which we’ll need to achieve that goal. But in the absence of any gap to evaluate — as with a status quo goal — our minds immediately start thinking about that context. Our all-too-human negativity bias then kicks in and our brains start generating reasons why we might fail. Thus setting a steady baseline goal just to make your people more confident is actually likely to do just the opposite.

Harder goals mean more satisfaction

In the studies we’ve described so far, participants rated the goals we gave them one at a time. The results were different, though, when we asked them to rate status quo and modest improvement goals in tandem.

There the pattern broke: when participants evaluated these goals together, they did judge the modest improvement goal as more difficult than the status quo goal (3.02 vs 2.43). Generalizing from our findings in the earlier study, we deduce that the participants took their cue from the gaps between the goal and the baseline, and logically concluded that it was easier to maintain the status quo than to increase results.

But in the same study, when we asked participants which of the two goals they would choose to pursue, they again chose modest improvement targets over status quo targets. This finding held across all kinds of spheres — whether about achieving a higher GPA, exercising more, completing more tasks, saving more, or working more hours. Despite the fact that they knew these goals were harder, participants anticipated greater satisfaction from achieving modest positive changes as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

As a manager, these findings should encourage you to set your team at least modest improvement goals rather than status quo goals — especially in tough contexts such as a bearish economy, an all-consuming merger, or with a key contract up in the air. Even if the goal is hard to achieve, your team is likely to see the benefits — and to be motivated to reach a target that makes them proud.

Research: When Getting Fired Is Good for Your Career

We conducted additional research on 360 executives, analyzing their careers in depth. While all of them experienced a variety of setbacks, 18% of executives in this dataset faced what many view as the very worst-case scenario: getting fired or laid off. Most of them lost their job at a relatively senior point in their career (only 17% were in their first decade in the workforce at the time they were let go).

What we found is that being fired or laid off doesn’t necessarily have catastrophic effects on leaders’ prospects. We also found that leaders can do some specific things to make sure that a major setback doesn’t become a career-killer.

The good news: 68% of executives who had been let go landed in a new job within six months. An additional 24% had a new job by the end of one year. Even better? 91% of executives who had been fired took a job of similar or even greater levels of seniority.

We even found some signs that the experience of losing a job — when handled the right way — might even make one a stronger candidate for future roles.  In our study, when the interview process included expert third-party assessors engaged by employers to prevent hiring mistakes, 33% of executives who had been previously fired were recommended for hire — compared to 27% of candidates who had never been fired.  Experienced hiring managers know that setbacks are inevitable and want to see how individuals have handled failure in the past. The riskiest hires are the ones who are untested by failure. Executives who have faced failure and learned from it can demonstrate resilience, adaptability, and self-awareness prized in leaders.

That said, executives who had been let go were also more likely to receive a strong “do not hire” recommendation than those who were never fired (46% vs. 36%), indicating that the reason why someone was removed from a role and the way in which they processed that experience did impact their future career potential.

Leaders whose careers soared — not sank — after this setback, did three things differently:

Looked facts in the face… without shame. Those who deflect ownership and instead point to external factors or blame others for failures on their watch don’t do as well. Our data shows that candidates who blamed others cut their chances of being recommended for hire by one-third. Strong performers own their mistakes, and describe what they learned and how they adjusted their behavior and decision making to minimize the chances of making the same mistakes in the future. Having several different types of career blow ups does not derail you. Repeating the same blowup over and over does.

While they own their mistakes, they do so without guilt or shame. Executives who saw their mistakes as failures were 50% less successful than those who took a more learning/growth-oriented approach.

Taking ownership without shame enabled these executives to show themselves as likeable and confident in the interview process for the next role qualities proven to increase chances of getting the job. Analysis of ghSMART assessments by Kaplan and Sorensen showed that the more likable leaders had higher odds of getting hired for any leadership position. Our research with SAS found that highly confident candidates were 2.5 times more likely to be hired.

Leaned on their professional network to get the next job: Candidates were twice as likely to find a job through a professional network than via recruiters or personal network (59% vs. 28%). While friends may be eager to help and lend their sympathetic ear, ultimately the most powerful support comes from those who have seen the results you can deliver based on their direct working experience with you. Search firms have a wide exposure to available positions but typically play it safe and may be reluctant to put their credibility on the line with their client by presenting a candidate who had been fired before. Proactively reaching out to former bosses, colleagues, customers, or peers for whom you have delivered before proves more fruitful than golfing with friends from university or blasting your CV to the recruiting world — although those most eager do all three.

Relied on their experience: 94% of those who landed a new job within 6 months had prior experience in that industry. Hence, one would be well advised to get experience across 2-3 industries early in one’s career, so that if one gets fired, there are multiple industries to rebound into rather than being pigeonholed.

The most important advice both for those looking to rebound and to prevent getting fired in the first place: Pick jobs in the “bull’s eye” of your skills and motivations.

We hope this offers some hopeful news both to people who’ve been let go, and to managers who are in the position of needing to let someone go. One third of the leaders in our CEO Genome study took too long to make people changes — often with damaging consequences for themselves, their teams, and the executive who is poorly fit to the job. If you are agonizing over the need to move someone out of your team, worried about destroying their career, hopefully this research helps you make the right decision for the wellbeing of your whole team and gives you the tools to support the person you are moving out to help them land in the right next opportunity.

We also hope this is useful research for everyone suffering from the fear of failure. While mistakes and career setbacks are painful, a much bigger mistake, according to our data is not taking risks. When we analyzed careers of executives who got to the top faster than average, what set them apart was taking risks to take messy jobs or smaller jobs that nobody wanted or taking on big leaps that felt way over their head.

More than 20 years of advising and coaching leaders has shown us that when you try to achieve something meaningful, you’ll face blow-ups from time to time. What matters more, is that you address the failure as an opportunity for growth. It can be a real travesty when, by playing defense throughout their careers, so many of us miss a chance to grow to our full potential and to live more meaningful lives.  In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes “Many people die with their music still in them.”

How to Be a Stellar Mentor to Someone at Work

When you’re asked to become a mentor to someone, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You’ve reached a stage in your career wherein you have valuable knowledge to pass on, and you can impart that wisdom to an eager disciple. However, the difference between being a good mentor, and one of the best, is all about how much effort you put in, and the ground rules you set for both yourself, and the student. Here’s some advice to get you there.

1. Listen more than you speak

It’s easy to think that because you’re an experienced and reliable advisor, talking is the biggest part of the role. But in reality, a great mentor will choose his or her words carefully, and spend way more time listening to their protégé. Knowing what to say, and when to say it, is what separates a good mentor from a great one. If you listen to your young Padawan carefully, you’ll get all the information you need to provide more reasoned and helpful advice.

2. Know when to step back

We learn by failing. You shouldn’t be afraid to let your disciple fail. Of course, they should be at least ready to attempt the task at hand, whether it’s learning a new skill, or leading a team project. But success will not come instantly, and by letting them learn from their mistakes (and embracing every success along the way) you’ll prepare them way better than a mentor who shelters them from every possible struggle.

3. Offer plenty of clear explanations

What’s that old saying about giving someone a fish versus teaching them how to fish? You know the one. The same applies to almost any kind of information you share with your mentee. You may know the best way to do something, be it stripping down an engine or building a strategy for a product launch. However, just telling them without explaining why you do it the way you do is nowhere near as helpful. Remember, you’re a mentor because you have great knowledge to pass on. Get ready to explain the why as well as the how. It will also help you gain a fresh perspective on how you got so good at what you do.

4. Acknowledge that you can learn from them, too

Mentoring is not a one-way street. Whether you’re 28 or 88, there’s always something new to learn. Sure, you know a lot; enough to be a mentor, but your mentee brings new experiences and information to the table as well.

A great example of this is the world of advertising and design. The last decade has seen a revolution in the way brands advertise to consumers, and in particular, millennials, and Gen Z’ers. Social media is a powerful tool, and one that veteran advertising experts are still trying to master. Mentees in the advertising world often know more about this than the mentors. Get ready to trade knowledge, not just dish it out.

To Land a Great Job, Talk About Why You Love Your Work

When interviewing for your next job, how can you impress your recruiter and increase your chances of securing a job offer? Of course you may wish to emphasize your ambitions and goals you hope to achieve as a result of working at the company — your extrinsic motivation for the job. But to what extent should you also emphasize your love for your work and what you hope to achieve as part of the process of working at the company? This comprises your intrinsic motivation for the job, and most of us understand how important it can be to sustained engagement at work; but do recruiters care to hear this?

Our research suggests that they do — and that job applicants aren’t taking advantage of that. Indeed, we have found that people fail to predict the power of such a statement of intrinsic motivation on the impression they make.

To examine this prediction problem — the discrepancy between what candidates think will impress recruiters and what recruiters actually find impressive — we surveyed 1428 full-time employees and MBA students across five studies. Some provided their predictions, guessing what recruiters would find impressive when hiring a job candidate. Others told us what they actually valued when making hiring decisions.

As a first test, we asked full-time employees to view several statements that they could make during a job interview. Some statements emphasized intrinsic motivation, for example, wanting a job that is interesting and meaningful. Other statements emphasized extrinsic motivation, for example, caring for career advancement and financial security. Candidates indicated how impressive they thought each statement was for recruiters. Another group of employees viewed these same statements and told us how impressed they would be by a job candidate who expressed each of these during an interview. Whereas job candidates accurately predicted how impressed recruiters would be by statements of extrinsic motivation, these individuals failed to realize how much recruiters would be impressed by expressions of intrinsic motivation. Emphasizing love for a particular job was more important for recruiters than candidates anticipated.

We found this same pattern — that people fail to predict the value of expressing intrinsic motivation — when the roles were reversed. In this study, recruiters predicted what recruits find appealing in a company and what would convince them to accept a job offer. Specifically, we asked MBA students to view statements about company culture, including current employees’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and predict how useful each one is in convincing an admitted candidate to join the company. Other MBAs viewed these same statements and told us whether they would accept a job offer from a company who expressed each of these in its culture. Whereas recruiters correctly predicted that recruits wanted to work at a company where the culture emphasized extrinsic motivation, they underestimated how much recruits valued working at a company where the culture emphasized intrinsic motivation. Emphasizing that employees find their job interesting and meaningful impressed job candidates more than those in the role of recruiter anticipated.

Why do candidates, and recruiters, underestimate how much others value intrinsic motivation? We found that although people know that they care about intrinsic motivation, they don’t know that others also care about this just as much. People’s lack of awareness that others value intrinsic motivation influences what they say when trying to impress others.

This failure to appreciate that others care to be intrinsically motivated has consequences for what we say in job interviews. In one study, we asked MBA students to choose a pitch for a job interview: One pitch emphasized intrinsic motivation (e.g., “I love doing my work”) and the other pitch emphasized extrinsic motivation (e.g., “the position would be a great place for me to advance my career”). If students chose the pitch that the majority of recruiters (another group of MBAs) selected as more convincing, they could be eligible to win a prize. We found that while only 43% of the candidates chose the intrinsic pitch, 69.5% of the recruiters thought it was superior and more likely to land the job.

How can job seekers ensure they emphasize motivations that recruiters care for? One tip is to take the recruiter’s perspective. We asked employees to view two job pitches that emphasized either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, and to the choose one that would impress a recruiter. Before choosing, we instructed one group to take the recruiter’s perspective. This group first considered who they would hire if they were the recruiter, before choosing a pitch they believed would impress a recruiter. The other group did not take the recruiters’ perspective before choosing. Perspective-taking helped those in the role of job candidate better intuit that recruiters are impressed by intrinsic motivation, leading 45.9% of them to choose this message compared with only 31.7% who did not take the recruiters’ perspective.

The takeaway is clear: candidates interviewing for a job should highlight the meaning they derive from their work, and recruiters looking to attract job candidates should emphasize that their employees do work they love. Engaging in perspective taking — putting yourself in the other person’s shoes — is one way to ensure intrinsic motivation is emphasized.

How to Use Facebook’s Settings to Have More-Productive Conversations

The past year has served as a wake-up call for many Facebook users. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony and the advent of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we have fresh insight into how much Facebook knows about us—knowledge that has inspired many people to re-think what they share on Facebook, how they manage their Facebook settings, or even whether they want to use social media at all.

While Facebook’s algorithm uses our data to show us content and ads that it thinks is more likely to be of interest to us, it can also distort our view of the world by limiting our view to the people and perspectives we find most appealing or otherwise engaging. That algorithm is also the reason that some Facebook threads unfold as civil, respectful (but perhaps insufficiently representative) conversations among like-minded souls, while others turn into all-out brawls that can be both personally distressing and professionally problematic. You are at the mercy of Facebook’s algorithm when it comes to determining which conversations appear in your newsfeed at any given moment.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. By taking control of your Facebook experience with lists and privacy settings, you can override the algorithm with your own explicit preferences, and forge your own balance between breadth and intimacy. Most importantly, if you start thinking more explicitly about what you want from Facebook at a given moment—Am I looking for a representative source of business intelligence? A few restorative moments? A trusted circle with whom I can discuss a complex issue?—you can make Facebook a more useful and less manipulative part of your online experience.

Use lists to create safe spaces

We all have times when we want to venture online for industry news, professional support or simple entertainment—without facing the risk of a major conflict or distraction. This is where Facebook lists come in handy. Lists allow you to create a digital safe space: a circle of people you pay attention to, or speak with, when you don’t want to do battle with the big world.

You may need more than one of these safe spaces. Perhaps you want one for talking about industry news and business strategy (if only to avoid boring your non-work friends), another for talking politics, and yet another for talking about your kids or your pets or your triathlon training. If you have a specific subject that you like to talk about regularly, but it’s a subject that can trigger either boredom or controversy, it’s worth thinking about giving this subject its own safe space in your online existence.

Facebook makes it incredibly easy to create these spaces: Just create a Facebook list for each circle, and put all the friends you want into that circle on the list. (Those lists are only visible to you, and not to the people you put on it, so feel free to create a list called Fellow Crazy Marathon Runners.) You now have a list that can help shape your conversations in two ways: by giving you more control over what you see, and by giving new options for privacy settings that affect who sees what you post.

Lists help you manage your attention and energy by letting you control what you see and when you see it. Add each list to your shortcuts (which appear on the left side of your Facebook page), so you can see posts only from those list members when you just don’t have the energy or inclination to look at the cacophony of your main news feed. I’ve written before about how to use lists to be more professionally personable on Facebook–that advice becomes all the more relevant in a highly charged political environment. This works better than creating separate Facebook groups because your friends don’t have to join, and because this will include all their regular posts–not just ones they deliberately post to a particular group’s page.

Use privacy settings to limit your exposure

Once you have your lists in place, you can use those lists in the privacy settings for your individual posts.  When you’re posting to Facebook, use the visibility drop-down to determine who can see that post: everyone (public), friends, or a specific list or group.

Use Facebook’s restricted list to ensure that only your real friends see your friends-only posts (just put any less-than-true friends on the restricted list), or use narrower lists to share political rants just with those friends who have similar views. Use your “industry news” list to share your views on the latest acquisition deal in your field (remembering to exercise judgement in what you say, because anyone can take a screenshot of anything, so you never really know where it will end up.)  Or, if you want to share a political post with colleagues and you’re willing to engage your crazy uncle in an argument it, but don’t want your colleagues to see the argument, post your message twice–once to a family list and again to your colleague list.  (Note that just because someone is on a list doesn’t mean they will see posts you share with that list; it just means they can: Facebook’s mysterious algorithm will still show those posts to some list members but not others.)

And, finally, remember that creating this kind of safe space for yourself comes with its own dangers: even without your deliberate efforts to filter out offensive content, social media algorithms give us a filtered view of society as a whole. When you’re living in a filter bubble it’s easy to think that everybody shares your worldview—a misapprehension that can have personal, social and professional repercussions. The safe spaces you create can be helpful in maintaining your emotional well-being and your professional connections, but don’t retreat into them so completely that you never hear anything else.

Facebook’s lists and privacy settings offer a way to take control of your experience and make Facebook more useful and less aggravating for you personally. It’s a step we all need to take if we want to reclaim our relationships, our careers and our democracy from the tyranny of the algorithm.

9 Ways to Boost Productivity That Will Make You a Great Teammate

Employee performance is a growing concern for business owners, and many of them are taking unique measures to keep their employees happy and productive. One New Zealand firm known as Perpetual Guardian recently shifted its employees to a four-day workweek instead of five, finding that its team members became far less stressed while producing the same amount of work.

Unfortunately, this approach hasn’t exactly caught on as a trend, which means that many employees have to take happiness, engagement and productivity into their own hands. Whether you want a promotion or you’re trying to prevent a layoff by making yourself more valuable, increasing productivity is the path to success.

Looking to make yourself a noticeably more productive member of the team? Here are a few steps to help you get there:

1. Track your time.

Unless you have a direct supervisor standing over your desk and watching your computer screen, there is likely little keeping you from sneaking peeks at your Facebook account or going down a rabbit hole of cute animal pictures. A crucial step toward increasing your productivity is finding a way to make yourself accountable for the time you spend.

Using a time tracker such as Toggl or Nutcache can help you see how much time you’re devoting to a single project, encouraging you to focus on completing each assignment in a timely manner. It’s harder to browse Instagram when you know the clock is ticking.

2. Say yes to “Do Not Disturb” mode.

Nearly all smartphones have this feature, and while it’s designed for distraction-free sleep, it can also do wonders for your workday. Just turn on Do Not Disturb mode any time you need to focus, and you’ll significantly limit outside alerts pinging you out of your groove.

3. Give yourself a break.

While you don’t want your time to drain away through repeated distractions, taking planned breaks from the grind will help keep you sharp. Try methods such as the Pomodoro Technique — which suggests breaking large tasks into shorter, more manageable chunks — to build some scheduled relief into your day.

4. Say no to pointless meetings.

According to Elon Musk, “Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time.” You may have only so much control over meetings if you aren’t in a management position, but do what you can to cut out any meetings that don’t have a defined agenda and desired outcome beforehand. You’ll be amazed how much time you gain as a result.

5. Let others help you.

When you’re trying to be super productive, it can be tempting to bite off more than you can chew. But overachieving is a quick route to burnout. You’ll be more effective if you let your team function as it should, with every member participating.

“I’ve learned to trust my team members and their input instead of constantly spending my energy and attention on tiny details,” says Daniel Wesley, president of Quote.com. “It’s a huge time saver. Less distraction, more focus and more learning opportunities for the team all mean more success.”

6. Focus on the necessities.

Sometimes, the tasks themselves can become the distraction. Make sure you’re focusing on the right to-dos by creating a daily list of the most essential tasks you need to complete. Once you’ve finished the most crucial assignments, then you can attend to the secondary work guilt-free.